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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

Hill: Make your security answers easy

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The digital age provides stunning and easy access to a wide array of information.

But there are pitfalls for some of us who have trouble remembering many of the keys that unlock the doors to the world.

I’m sure many of you will empathize.

For instance, the other day I found myself on the phone with someone from Apple. Yes, that Apple. The Apple in Silicon Valley. The Steve Jobs Apple. The Apple that you have to make an appointment with to talk to a real, live person.

ITunes had brought me to this conversation, the point of which was that I couldn’t remember the answers to my “security” questions, and without those answers I couldn’t use my pitiful $20 balance to buy the retries on the Words With Friends challenge games.

The nice young man asked, “Didn’t you write them down?”

“Of course I did. Back in 2003 or 2004 when I opened the account.”

What I wanted to add but didn’t was:

Back when I was only middle-aged, not old and forgetful, and almost before you were born.

❖ ❖ ❖

The confession about the book with all the magic user names, the specific email address out of the multitude I have and had that was used to open the account with, the passwords, the pass codes and security question answers was somewhat embarrassing.

It, and other important scraps of paper on which I have written many “important” things, have gone the way many such things have gone: Into the cosmos.

In other words, I can’t find it.

“Well, I can help you reset your security questions, but first you have to be able to answer them before I can reset them.”

Huh? This is a digital Catch-22.

Anyway, he said, “Let’s get started. I need your birth date, city of birth, your address, phone number and the last four digits of your Social Security number.”

“Well, once you have all that you know it’s me!”

“No, you could have had your identity stolen.”

That was true. I couldn’t fault him.

So after all the hackable information was supplied he asked the first security question.

“What is the name of your elementary school?”

I answered, but I was wrong.

Then I thought, Oh, Lord. Was I having a brain spasm when I answered that question back in the computer dark ages? That’s possible since I went to two elementary schools.

It could also have been the completeness of the answer. In other words, did I include the entire name? Like Doofus Elementary School. Or did I just say Doofus?

Or, OMG, had I used upper and lower case letters? Or had I written it in all lower case?

He couldn’t reveal any of that information.

I complained.

He just said, “Let’s go on to the next question.”

“So I don’t have to get all three correct?”

He didn’t answer but asked the second question.

“Who was your favorite teacher?”

My relief that I had another chance to pass this test was soon replaced with terror.

She had several names, having been married and divorced and remarried.

Plus, her common first name was spelled uncommonly.

I tried to explain all that but got nowhere.

“Let’s try the third question.”

Now I was really on the hot seat.

What if I couldn’t answer the question?

I’d be out $20. But worse, I’d have to go through the whole join iTunes process again and lose all the music I’d purchased through the years.

“Where were you at midnight January 1, 2000?”

I knew exactly where I was the moment the century changed. But I was afraid I’d either be too specific — as in standing outside my darling daughter’s house holding one of her two little girls whom we decided needed to be aware of the monumental event.

Or too vague.

Vague won out. “St. Petersburg, Florida.”

“You got one out of three.”

“Is that enough?”

I don’t know whether it was or he was just tired of dealing with me and my sad tale of how many passwords, etc., I’d accumulated in more than 20 years of accumulating them and how easy it was to forget them or lose the paper I’d written them on. And why I was afraid to put them in a digital “safe” that I’d need a password to get into.

I any case, he said, “Yep.”

So I picked new questions out of several he offered up.

He advised: “Why don’t you make these easy answers that only fit the specific question, like the name of your first pet, the make and model of your first car and your favorite sports team.

“Plus, make the answers lower case.”

Done, done and done.

And I wrote them down, too. In a special book, much like the special book I’d written them down in way back when. Wait! Was this THE book and I just hadn’t written the answers down?

I flipped through the tattered, dog-eared, little Mead 5-Star notebook looking for iTunes.

Nope. It wasn’t there. Plus, I had dated some of the entries.

This book wasn’t 10 or 11 years old, just 8.

Even so, that’s 20-plus bank, cable, Google and eBay passwords ago.

I couldn’t help myself. I counted.

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