I”Identity theft. Apparently he used to sit on his couch, hack high net worth accounts all over the world. Turned it into a collection of Hummers, helicopters, and, apparently, Freddie Mercury’s ashes.” – Prison Break
Conquer the Crash of 2004? You bet! Rode it out with Mad Max. You remember that, right?
If you only read one post I’ve ever written, read this one.
William Blake said, “Life can only be lived forwards, but understood in reverse.”
Stupid William Blake.
It started last January, but to tell the story I have to start on April 17 of this year. Every year, tax day is on April 15. Unless April 15 is on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday. So, essentially tax day is tied to the calendar like Easter (only PhD’s in Astrophysics and the Cadbury Cream Egg® people can figure out when Easter is, and that was only after the advent of the digital computer).
Anyhow, not wanting to put things off until the last minute, I sat down on my computer 36 hours prior to my taxes being due (that’s at least 40 metric hours).
TurboTax® is like the person who holds your hair when you vomit. It’s nice of them, but you’re still in horrible agony with a convulsing body with things going entirely the wrong direction. That’s the way I feel about tax day, even if they send some of my money back to me. I rationalize that it’s easy, and, heck, procrastinated to the point where I took a day off to do taxes.
I sat down with a hot cup of coffee, my trusty laptop, and proceeded to open all of those letters that showed up in January with “Important: Tax Information Enclosed” emblazoned in blood red on the envelope. I soon had piles of income, deductions, stocks and toenail clippings arrayed in front of me next to the computer to begin entry into the government’s enabler (TurboTax©) and began entry.
Income was easy. Had all of that. Whoops? Where are the interest statements on two accounts? Pugsley brings the mail in most days. On a windy day, Pugsley might have dropped it and those statements might have blown into Canada along with William Shatner’s toupee.
I called up my bank, “Yo, what gives?” (Okay, I actually said, “Verily, what mayhap be uppith with my interest statements?”)
The response was, “Hmmmm, ohhh, okay, I see. Those accounts are dormant. You’ve done no transactions with them for 24 months.”
John Wilder: “Can you undormant them?”
Nice Lady: “Sure!”
John Wilder: “Wow, does this happen often?”
Nice Lady: “Yeah. What’s really bad is that in some states if the account is dormant long enough, the state takes the money. And there’s nothing you can do to get it back.”
John Wilder: “Wow.”
Nice Lady: “That’s a rough conversation.”
I completed my taxes, but this conversation stuck in my mind. It seemed pretty wrong that this could happen to someone who was just, you know, saving their money and being all responsible.
So, on Friday after lunch, I called up my bank and began to request my account balances.
The nice lady (a different one this time) began rattling them off. A year previously I had put them all in a spreadsheet (minus account numbers) and was comparing them: “Yup, that’s right. Yup. Yup. Yup.”
Nice Other Lady: “And that’s it.”
I didn’t need to add them up. There were the right number of accounts, and most of the amounts were the same. But the amount on the biggest one wasn’t the same as the spreadsheet. Not even close.
And it wasn’t more money. It was smaller. By a lot.
Over 10% of my net worth was missing. More than my home value, plus all the cars I’ve bought in the last ten years. Just gone.
You know that whole, “blood runs cold” thing? It wasn’t running cold. It was cryogenic (cryogenic comes from the Latin word “Cry” because your money is missing and “Genic” meaning this level of stupidity must be genetic).
I pretended calm. Have you ever tried to pretend to have idle chit-chat with your boss while you think that even this second your bank accounts are draining faster than Amy Schumer chases a cheeseburger?
The next three hours and forty-one minutes at work were the equivalent of sixteen years of my life. The drive home took another four years. I now identify as being seventy-one. I think I will list that on my Social Security application next year and argue that I am “age-fluid.”
As I drove home I prayed. “Please oh please.”
Further, I deduced that there were three possibilities in the situation:
- Russian hackers had pilfered an account and were living high on the hog with their fat Bulgarian mistresses in some country where they use wrapping paper for money and eat dark bread and vodka all night.
(I have no idea if Bulgarians are fat, but I was not thinking good things about the potential hackers). Now the family fortune isn’t watched over by a series of accountants I keep chained in the basement, it’s been because I’ve worked really hard – in some years nearly 4,000 hours a year (and gotten amazing results for my company lots of times). As such, I have stacks of unopened bank statements I don’t read; I’m off at work. I know I have enough money for most things I’d like to do (most of my wishes are small and involve T-shirts with funny sayings on them), and so, I skip opening them.
Sadly for me, most banks will only allow you to fix hanky-panky if you let them know in sixty days. I’m not sure I’d opened even statement during that time period.
My blood ran colder. This was the worst possibility.
- Whatever state my bank was located in had confiscated my money and had bought themselves hot tubs for their tax accountants and a new snow plow.
This was marginally better. My accounts had just gone dormant, and I could make a good case that they were big poopy heads and give me my money back, meanie. The legal term for this is Prima Whinius. And maybe they could take the plow back.
This was a better possibility for me.
- I had made a mistake about how much money I had.
This was a pretty remote possibility.
The amount that was missing was a pretty big one, one I’m sure I hadn’t imagined, and one that the Other Nice Lady had NOT mentioned. I distinctly remembered going through the statements, account by account, and adding them up a year previously. And it was the biggest account, by far. It’s like playing hide and seek with Al Roker’s former pants. If you can’t see them, you’re just not looking.
In a strange way, I was hoping it was this, because then I could pretend I wasn’t as stupid as in either point one or two above.
I finally got into the driveway. The Mrs. was (thankfully) gone to drop The Boy and Pugsley off at a Junior Wine Tasting Festival, while I tore into the house like a poodle chasing a pork chop on a stick.
I ran downstairs to the vault where I keep the gold coins I swim in and my financial statements. (It’s actually a closet filled with tents, sleeping bags, and plastic bins of my cable bills from 1897.
I reached in, and pulled out . . . the golden ticket – the first statement I found was for the account. I ripped it open and looked at the balance.
It was the big number I was expecting. It was from less than six months ago.
I ran upstairs, and dialed the bank. I read the account number off, and asked for a balance.
Nice Lady Three: “Well, John Wilder . . . ” and it was the same number from earlier in the day.
“Is there any problem, sir?”
“Yes,” I croaked into the phone, stress filling my voice, “I’m missing more than 10% of my entire net worth out of this account!”
“Sir, are you sure?”
I looked at the statement again. I looked at the second page. It showed a different number.
A much smaller number.
One that matched what she said. And it had the right account number next to it.
It turns out the statement aggregated three accounts. Two of the accounts showed up on other statements that I also got monthly in other, separate envelopes. Wow. I’d double counted a house and a Corvette™.
I then recalled that moment a year ago when I’d added up my accounts, and found, happily, that I had a house and a Corvette® more than I’d expected. Yay! Strangely, my emotions then hadn’t included panic or hyperventilation.
The Mrs. returned home, and I outlined the situation. To her? No big deal. It’s my job to watch the money and to make sure we have enough money to buy Pez©, pantyhose, and elephant rides. I watch our net worth, and The Mrs. watches Mystery Science Theater 3000.
My Lessons and Takeaways:
- Check your Statements.
Money isn’t actually real, so if the Russians take yours, and you let the bank know about it within sixty days? They’ll make some more for you, or at least that’s what the Internet thinks. I don’t online bank or use ATMs, so those aren’t danger points for me. But the more you expose yourself to those that love Bulgaria, the riskier it is.
- Check your Statements.
And actually math them. Make sure that everything looks good monthly. I’d call your bank every other month. Actually, I’m volunteering. Send me your banking information and Social Security Number. I’ll check for you for free! (HINT: THIS SOUNDS SUSPICIOUS BECAUSE IT IS – I CHARGE A FEE)
- Periodically Stir Your Money.
That will prevent the state from thinking it’s dormant and stealing it. It will also prevent your money from sticking to the sides and bottoms of the pot as you cook it.
I am probably now old enough to adult more, so I probably should adult. I should probably figure out a way to invest it so it returns money to me, instead of just the bank. I know, this is a crazy idea.
- Outside of How Much You Spend and How Long You Are Retired, Money at the Margin is the Most Important in Retirement
When I re-ran retirement scenarios? Yeah, I’m gonna need to work longer or adopt Justin Bieber. Okay, I’ll work longer.
In the end, the biggest take away of the Wilder Financial Catastrophe That Really Wasn’t of 2017®?
I haven’t changed, and I’m the same John Wilder the day before and the day after, and a bank error in my favor won’t hurt me. And, as I continued to open statements? I found half a Corvette® to add back to my net worth. Yay!
I lost something I never had, but now you have an awesome blog post. Tell six friends or I’ll tell the Russians where you live. On tax day.
Now you understand what an evil genius Blake was. Lived it forward, understand it now.
You should watch this, it’s how I felt. It has four instances of cussing, but it would be PG-13. Honestly? I cussed a lot, too.