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A not-so-underground belief many have embraced is dishonesty is clever—and, moreover, it’s cute. Characters in film sometimes shoplift as part of a romantic montage that could be called “Lovers Acting Adorable.” In the culture at large, hackers who raid accounts enjoy a kind of celebrity status. Lying, cheating, and stealing are depicted in popular media as proof someone is streetwise and tough, worthy of respect. Dishonesty becomes an in-joke that many look on with envy or try to copy. Only fools play by the rules.
Until you are the victim. Then dishonesty doesn’t feel clever, cute, or tough. It feels like someone seizing resources you worked hard to collect, resources you needed. It feels like a violation.
Recently my husband and I were victims of identity theft. I doubt being victimized would feel any better if we had been careless enough to invite the raid—if we had left personal information on a donated hard drive or a bus seat or in a rest-stop restroom. But we didn’t. No one knows for sure where the leak originated, but the most likely sources were first, a theft of identity information from state juror or driver’s license files or second, the hack of Equifax. (In a cynical mood, I might tell you I stopped trusting corporations and the government to have my best interests at heart some time ago. Precisely what new protections against cyber crime have been initiated—even when foreign invasion is a fact?)
The effort and genius necessary to perform recent hacks and thefts far exceeds the expertise needed to make a comfortable living, but perhaps the thrill of taking that which is not yours justifies the imbalance. My husband and I were lucky. We were warned very quickly by one of our theft deterrent services. To date, we haven’t lost more than we can eventually absorb—just a small vacation or home repairs or a visit to ailing relatives across the country. How many elderly victims appear on the evening news, having been stripped of pension funds by unscrupulous employers or scammed out of lifetime savings? My husband and I can hope we’ve done enough to prevent our losses multiplying in the future. Others aren’t as fortunate.
Urban myths would have us believe that most theft is performed by drug-crazed addicts, but I know that isn’t true. Modern thefts require alert minds that skate along the cutting edge of technology—perhaps ones that delight in each conquest as though we all live in a video game without consequences. Thefts are all about blind greed. Morality dims when you stop believing doing what’s right is worthwhile.
Do I think it matters that we’ve become accustomed to dishonesty at all levels of our society—personal, governmental, and corporate? Yes. Dishonesty is a communicable disease as is lack of consideration. It creates a world in which no one can relax and trust. It perpetuates ugly.