Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Security question strife

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Security questions have caused Shelley Bridgeman some frustration.
Photo / Thinkstock
Security questions have caused Shelley Bridgeman some frustration. Photo / Thinkstock

I've long had an uneasy relationship with security questions. It's the National Bank's fault. I had a spot of trouble with them a few years ago when I telephoned its centralised helpline to discuss my banking affairs.

I gave them my name and the number of the account I wished to discuss. The weird thing was I failed the security questions they asked me. From memory the questions were: when did I open the account, what was the rough current balance, and what was the limit on my credit card. On two separate occasions I answered these questions as accurately as possible yet the operator refused to engage with me any further.

So I took the most sensible course of action I could think of: I wrote to my branch in Hastings asking them to write back advising the answers to the questions they were after so that in future I'd be able to furnish the requisite replies to the telephone operator. Well, that didn't work. The letter I received said that they wouldn't be telling me the answers to the security questions since then they wouldn't be security questions.

I disagreed with this stance for several reasons. Firstly, surely they'd be safe sending the answers in writing to the mailing address my bank statements had been going to for many years. Secondly, since they clearly held a false set of information about me and since this false set of information was my sole key to telephone interaction with the bank, surely they were logically obliged to divulge it to me. Thirdly, my understanding of the Privacy Act was that organisations are obliged to release the information they hold on a customer to the individual concerned.

There was a time when this set of circumstances would have propelled me into launching a mammoth battle. I'd have sought legal advice, had letters issued on my behalf and generally come out with all guns blazing. However at this stage I'd moved on from such a litigious approach and couldn't be bothered expending energy on trivialities of this nature. I simply accepted I wouldn't be getting telephone service from the bank again.

So a letter from my branch, months later, came as a surprise. It explained that the records of another customer who had the same name as me had become mixed up with my records so when I telephoned, the operator expected this other person's answers.

The tone of this letter annoyed me. Instead of anything resembling apology or contrition, I detected only an unappealing mixture of breathless amazement that such a thing could happen and self-congratulation at solving this perplexing state of affairs. I still don't use the call centre. Thanks to internet banking, I've weaned myself off such twentieth century relics anyway.

I was reminded of this situation on Saturday when I let my nine-year-old download One Direction's Up All Night album. I keyed in my Apple password for her and discovered to my horror that I was required to select three security questions for my iTunes account.

The questions were awful. Favourite primary school teacher? I could barely remember the names of most of my mine. First car? Mine was a V-Dub but this was a dodgy thing to type since I'd never recall whether I'd used a hyphen or a second capitalised letter so I skipped this question too.

The questions asking for your favourite car or favourite job seemed odd since these preferences are subject to change over time. The only question that fully met with my approval was the one that asked where I was on 1st January 2000. However it failed one of www.goodsecurityquestions.com parameters. The answer was certainly safe (can't be easily guessed or researched), stable (doesn't change over time) and memorable (can be remembered without reference) but strictly speaking it wasn't definitive because it of its case sensitivity. Still, this didn't bother me since I'm well aware place names require an initial capital.

I was happy with my answers to two of the iTunes questions but since the other questions didn't suit me I had to be slightly creative with the third answer. So I'm almost guaranteed to face a bit of strife if I ever need to regurgitate this information. It'll end in tears I'm sure. Up All Night just might be the very last album I download.

Do you have a healthy relationship with security questions or do they cause you an unnecessary amount of grief too?

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