Editor’s Note: For many years, Atlanta INtown ran First Person columns in its print edition. Now, we’re resurrecting First Person online. We relaunch with Barbara Brockway’s funny and moving piece about how an Internet scam artist brought Brockway closer to her friends and family. If you have an idea for a First Person essay, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Barbara Brockway
My cell phone display showed my friend Shin Jeong was calling. The tone of her voice told me something was wrong.
“Are you home right now, it sounds like you are in the car?” she asks.
“We’re headed to the Silver Comet Trail to do some biking,” I answer, now a little anxious. “Why, what’s up?
“I just received an email from you. It says you are in London and have been robbed and need money.”
Relieved that no one is hurt or has died, I answer that it must be some kind of scam.
“I figured it was, but thought you would like to know right away.”
“Thanks for the heads up. By the way, how much money are they asking for?”
“Eighteen hundred pounds,” she answers, laughing. “Are you flying back first class?”
By the time we pull into the parking lot and start off-loading our bikes, I’ve received four more calls. Several years ago we lived in England, and have traveled back there a few times. The London mention gives people pause when they read the email. I try to access my email and find my password won’t work, the hackers must have changed it. My husband Matt’s phone has started to ring now, too. “Should we head home and deal with this?” he asks.
I survey our bikes all primed to roll down a shady, flat trail for a few hours. It is the last day of Fourth of July weekend and Atlanta is out in force, enjoying the unusually mild weather
“No,” I reply. “There’s nothing we can do, let’s not let this ruin our day.”
“Why don’t you both change your voicemail messages and turn off your phones?” my daughter suggests, zipping back and forth on her bike.
Matt and I lock eyes with each over her head with an ‘out of the mouths of babes’ look between us. He also makes a quick post on Facebook. We strap on our helmets and head down the trail.
During the car ride home I flip through my phone and count twenty-six calls to my cell. Some folks have left funny messages; flying home first class is a big theme. The family grapevine has been officially activated, and there has been a spirited exchange on Facebook. Our answering machine at home is completely full, with mostly funny messages. We receive calls from our kids’ school, our church, our broker. We even receive messages from three people to whom we’ve rented a house on VRBO. Matt and I joke about the complicated hierarchy of friendships. With so many people calling, should we assume the ones who don’t call just don’t care?
Matt and I start to get nervous about the security of our financial information, so we spend over an hour changing all the passwords on our accounts. I dread the next few days thinking of the time it will take to deal with this.
I spend the next day trying to get Gmail to suspend my account. The hackers are still sending emails to my contacts and posing as me if someone responds to them. I find message boards online with a lot of hacking victims saying they never recovered their accounts. So much of what I do everyday is tied to my email account. My contacts, calendar, information stored in folders; the thought of losing all of it gives me a stomachache.
The phone keeps ringing. I have numerous short conversations, several ten-minute ones with friends I haven’t seen in a while and three really long ones with people I haven’t talked to in over a year. I find myself saying, over and over, “if this is the worst thing that happens to me this year, I am very blessed” and I truly believe it. Having this many people reach out to us is downright touching. The annoyance of having no email is more than offset by the connection with loved ones. I realize that this feeling may diminish in a couple of days, when the phones go silent, but for now I feel very loved.
My father died of Hodgkin’s disease when I was sixteen, a lot of people know that about me. What they may not know is what a financially perilous existence my family had because of it. Back then insurance companies could drop sick patients, and the medical bills were overwhelming. Twice our small town in Michigan had pancake breakfasts as a fundraiser, turning over the proceeds to my family. I don’t remember the first one and as an embarrassed teen did not attend the second, but a family friend told me they had to run out to get more flour, eggs and bacon, not just once, but twice, it was so well attended. People flocked to spend a Saturday morning at the VFW hall visiting with friends and neighbors and helping out a family in need, laughing and reminiscing over a stack of hotcakes and a cup of joe. The money raised was important, crucial even, but more than that, the fact that half the town turned out to support us meant everything to my parents.
I see a parallel between those caring folks of my youth and the ones in my life now, even though the expression is completely different. Nowadays not many people can spare time on a Saturday morning, never mind the distance between friends and families. Yet our friends circled us when they thought they might be needed, not with actual arms but with electronic ones, things that not only were not invented, but not even fathomed in the time of my childhood. Sure, we didn’t need help this time, but knowing our family and friends would surround us at the first sign of trouble, that was my George Bailey moment. A celebration of sorts took place as surely as if we’d gathered together to raise our coffee mugs in a toast to friendship.
Suddenly I have a craving for pancakes.
Barbara Brockway lives in Morningside with her husband, a teen, a tween and two feral cats. She is the creator of frugalfootprint.com.