What is electronic signature validity? In the past fifteen years, the authenticity of promissory notes, checks, credit cards and online payment signatures have dwindled down to an electronic configuration of symbols. Over time, the financial and personal information once submitted on paper, transferred to digital files. The storage of personal information on servers accessible via cyberspace is scary and seemingly vulnerable.
Once in a while there is new television series that captures my attention that leaves me eager for the next episode. While looking over my husband’s shoulder, his channel surfing stopped on the History Channel one day in January. While stealing glimpses over his shoulder, it seemed to be another rendering of people hunting for fictitious treasure. Midway into the show, treasure hunters, Rick and Marty Lagina, referenced a Readers Digest article about the mystery’s on Oak Island when they were 8 and 10 years old. When I realized there is some truth behind the treasure hunt, the average “Reality” TV sucked me into watching all episodes online. Soon I was hooked on “The Curse of Oak Island.”
The allure of Oak Island began over 200 years ago when exploration of an uninhabited island revealed tools and tree markings of prior visitors. Digging up the odd looking depression by the tree revealed mysterious clues and artefacts as to who was there before them. So vague and mysterious are the clues, many scholars continue to study the island today.
The discovery of parchment paper with symbols and a 17th century Spanish coin among wooden shafts, the intrigue grows stronger. Theories surrounding the artifacts range from Pirate Treasure to Shakespearean manuscript to the Ark of the Covenant to an overturned Viking ship. Some believe the depression is a filled sinkhole, while others contend underground shafts are simply a decoy to defect treasure hunters. Could the parchment symbols believed to be “xi” or “vi” be part of a promissory note, or signature of the owner of the coin? If this is indeed a lost treasure, why would someone feel the safest place to bury precious cargo is inside an island in Nova Scotia?
Shake On It
Storing personal treasure for safe-keeping has been going on longer than what is written. Whether the treasure is prize cattle or precious metal, the trust of a handshake converted to an owner’s signature as validation of a transaction. The authorization of a signature to transfer goods became the responsibility of the treasure holder. When a treasure holder was under attack, it became necessary to move to a safer location. Teetering on the edge of land, it is no wonder the loot set sail bound for a secret location and became vulnerable to piracy.
Thirteen years ago, I shook with acceptance of a promising career with a large retailer. With that handshake was the unspoken promise to prevent treasure thieves and train others to do the same. My role as cashier manager included learning, then training, the intricate workings of financial transactions at the time. The register technology consisted of cash, check and a few credit card transactions.
Training cashiers to process cash was elementary, yet the processing of checks and credit cards required more skill. It was not the exchange of funds, but the level of discernment to validate the authenticity of the signature in a credit card transaction. Imposed on them was a need to confirm signatures on the payment and driver’s license matched, and the picture on the driver’s license was indeed the person paying. Whether this was a scare tactic or security protocol, the use of cashiers was a mere theft deterrent. Ultimately, an invalid transaction created an investigation. This tedious triangle of verification slowed down the check-out process and created an outcry from the fast-paced consumer lifestyle. The instant fix to keep the customer happy is now surfacing as the cyber risk covering all avenues of media today.
Impatient customer’s comments reached the operations management team. Addressing the opportunity, a new validation process took place. Credit card readers were placed at each lane as a visual notice that cards were the preferred payment. The validity of the signature was no longer the responsibility of the cashier. The cashiers were told the captured electronic signature was “covered under insurance.” The pressure of deciphering fraudulent purchases no longer wrestled their conscience.
The change in roles required the cashier to offer a whole day of shopping with a discount when a customer opened a store credit card account. The store held competitions with in-store incentives to the employee that opened the most store accounts in a day. The application was a single sheet of paper that included the name, address, social security number, driver’s license number, and a signature. The information was sent across the wires to the retailer’s bank and within minutes a temporary line of credit was extended to the customer. Instead of matching a signature during the transaction, the cashiers were responsible for obtaining signatures to perform a credit check.
After the line of credit was extended to the customer, the paper trail was sent with all financial documents to headquarters to issue a plastic card. As the credit applications grew, so did the technology to process the applications. An upgrade to the registers included an electronic submission that eliminated the need for personal information to be verified by the cashiers and the paper trail became electronic, a carbon footprint.
Personal Identification Number (PIN)
Changing careers 8 years ago, I observe and take note of the retailers expanding market in the plastic card industry. Streamlining the information needed for the digital enrollment process for a store credit card created customer skepticism to share personal information. The retailer expanded the credit card operation to include a debit card. This card automatically deducts your purchase amount, and up to $40 cash, directly from a checking account. However, the enrollment process still requires the personal identity information as before, with the additional sharing of banking information. Within minutes, the customer receives a day of discounted shopping as a thank you for sharing all personal information. Better yet, the purchases paid with the new account no longer require a signature, but a tap of a four digit number. The payment process is encouraged mid-way through the transaction so the sale can be complete within 30 second of the last entered item. The ease of doing business to the hurried customer opened a door to identity theft.
In an attempt to further my career, I followed the company policy and opened as many new accounts as possible. Many incentives were awarded to me and my employees. On a slow day, I also opened an account for myself to receive what the customers experienced. My personal information was sent over the wires and into cyberspace where it remains available for the picking. This information entered the clouds nearly 10 years ago. My signature promised that sharing information was covered by the credit cards insurance and new account information is safe and secure. As digital espionage continues, it is important to remember that Oak Island lay undisturbed for 200 years. It is time to protect yourself from those that could stumble upon personal information tomorrow, in a month, a year, a decade.
- Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. If you’ve never done business with them before, do an online search first for reviews or complaints.
- Carry your cards separately from your wallet. It can minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet or purse. And carry only the card you need for that outing.
- During a transaction, keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.
- Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
- Save your receipts to compare with your statement.
- Open your bills promptly — or check them online often — and reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.
- Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
- Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling.
- Don’t write your account number on the outside of an envelope.
- Don’t share your social security number if it isn’t necessary.
Starting in 2015, retailers began accepting credit cards embedded with EMV technology. This “chip” will eventually replace the “strip” on the back of credit cards as a new method of protecting the consumer.
Access to your personal life may filter from the large companies that said they have insurance to protect you. Talk with a personal insurance agent about opportunities to protect your identity before going through the legal and financial trauma of reclaiming your life.
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