The last time I moved was in 2003, and I had little to do with notifying banks, credit card companies or utilities. I did not handle money, I was too big a deal, and I wasn't even sure who my utilities were. I never dealt with them. I had given control of my life away to somebody else. Today, that is not the case. I do remember calling an insurance company back them and telling them I had changed my address. A nice operator took the information and changed my address.
Address changes are, of course, a metaphor for life. And the process is very different than it was a decade ago. Banks, credit card companies, insurance companies and utilities seem to assume a change of address request is likely to be a fraudulent attempt by a thief or hacker to steal a customer's identity of the company's money. It is no longer a simple process but a complex one, another spiritual test. I called one credit card company to change my address and they immediately cancelled my credit card and I had to submit to a 30 item questionnaire loaded with trick questions to get my card back. Why was my card cancelled, I asked? Because we were trying to protect you from identity thieves, was the response. You changed your address and made two purchases the next day that were not in your usual pattern. Do I have a usual pattern?, I wondered. I had bought a magic mouse from Apple and a power cord for my Ipod. But what good is a card if it is canceled, I said. How does that protect me?, I wondered, eager to not offend my security consultant. Thanks for your input, sir, we understand how you feel.
It takes a long time to change your address these days. Mostly because nobody believes at first that it is your address. It is hard not to feel like a criminal if you are being treated like one. First, there are the security questions: last known address, mother's maiden name, favorite teacher, best friend in elementary school, name of your first dog. Then social security number, date of birth. The banks refused to even talk to me – get a form online, fill it out, mail it in. Federal regulations require this, they require that. I am hearing that phrase a lot lately – "federal regulations require." I am not political, but governments and their regulations seem to be in my life more than I want or need them to be. I feel like joining the Tea Party, I told one customer service rep. I'm going to a meeting tonight, he said. Do you need help finding a meeting in your area? Not now, I said, I need my credit cards first.
One company asked me if I had lived on any one of ten addresses they mentioned and I was questioned in rapid-fire style, as I used to do when reporting, to see if I got nervous. I was nervous. If I made a mistake, they would hang up on me and cause my credit card to go up in flames. I understand the dangers of identify theft and fraud, but I wonder at this illusion of security.
Are these questions really going to stop a determined hacker? Do they really make me safe? These are my addresses and it does seem sad to me that such a simple thing is so fraught with fear and regulation.
A central tenet of the fear machine it that we need to be frightened all the time in order to submit to these intrusions, regulations, loss of dignity, investment in time and emotional energy. After I was grilled for five minutes by a second suspicious credit card company I asked what the point of this was. "Well, sir," said my intrusive interrogator, "We need to keep you safe, don't we?" Are you asking me it it's okay with me that you doing this?, I asked. Not, not really, he said, making it quite clear that he was not in any way interested in my views. We understand how you feel. Please answer the next ten questions so that we can give your card the go-ahead.
The best experience I had was with Apple, who didn't ask me any security questions online, and with a utility, who assigned me to talk to a friendly and efficient company who asked me my questions – he did claim my best friend was somebody I never heard of, but we got past that - understood my new address, and changed it.
It took me many hours to change a dozen addresses, before I heard the words that chilled the blood in my veins and caused my heart to flutter. You need to contact Social Security and change your address with them. You may not hear from me for awhile. I have a speech ready for the next round. I will tell them I am happy to be moving, and that I have a blind pony and a testosterone-driven donkey and a great dog named Red. Maybe then they will believe me when I tell them that I have a new address.