Expatriating & ID Theft


The shredder’s whinge and rattle sounded like Donald Trump’s tax prep office

Mariah and I are in the middle of a move from Ohio to Panama. The house is upside down; we’re upside down; our world’s upside down. All this upside-down-ness offers a real upside-up for identity thieves. Here’s why.

Those who choose to prey on their fellow humans, either for sport, for fun, for profit, or just because they’d rather be saprophytes and leech off others, those individuals thrive on chaos. And chaos is what a move of 2,000 miles (to another country) creates. The sinister and exploitative among us understand that chaos and confusion force us to misread, forget, overlook and zone out, perfect conditions for allowing them in to do their nefarious work. We’re in the middle of the same disruption John & Susan experienced in their move, as Susan says here in her 4/15 blog post.  Or this post from Joel & Kris about the insanity surrounding their move to David in 2012.

Move 4

Almost there…Amazing the stuff we accumulate. This is nearly empty. Note the forlorn little box that holds ‘movable’ items!

The other side of this scenario is that due to this disrupted, emotionally charged environment, we’ve lost a bit of our usual equanimity and poise. We interrupt each other mid-sentence; minor irritations become monumental obstacles; we forget stuff. If multi-tasking was difficult before, it’s impossible now, and we realize that we need to check each other for oversights and omissions. “Did I turn that iron off? Duh…we gave the iron to Goodwill. Then what’s this ironing board doing here..? Holy buckets, I’m losing it.” We may at one time have had a memory like a steel trap. But in the midst of a move like this, with boxes everywhere, whole days and nights of utter confusion, dismay at the mountainous tasks that need to be accomplished and despair at what items must be left behind, we’re fortunate to remember our address, much less passwords. Cindy & David of Tombseekers go into detail about moving ‘stuff’ to Panama. It’s not easy, nor inexpensive, and reading about their experience convinces us that, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, ‘Less is more.’ He could have added, ‘…and cheaper, too.’

Bare walls, another Goodwill load, fresh paint, yep, we’re moving!

Speaking of bank accounts and passwords, one realization we had amidst the confusion is that changing them is a fine idea, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that files are being discarded, and though we’re extremely cautious to sort them, the chance of a sensitive document escaping the ‘burn pile,’ or an info-rich document finding its way into the (very public) trash can is high. I can’t claim that it’s been all drudgery. For a solid hour last week we fed papers and files into the maw of the Chiminea and watched years worth of tax returns, mortgage documents, medical files and assorted outdated and/or superfluous papers singe and turn to ash. Given the IRS requirement to keep files for three years, there’s still a small stack of stuff, but nothing like before. Think the Sunday New York Times Versus War and Peace. Once the weather turned too hot to sit by the fire we finished up the erasure process with the shredder. The machine’s whinge and rattle, the grappling of its little teeth went on so long it sounded like Donald Trump’s tax prep office.

And the elimination of paperwork is a critical nexus when it comes to ID theft. We’ve been careful to pore over every document for traces of ID: Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, credit score info, medical records, VA accounts, even utility bills that may contain fragments of traceable data. It’s easy to become paranoid during this process. But the fact remains that ID thieves are out there, they’re ambitious, they’re sophisticated and they’re always looking for (and finding) new angles to exploit.

We’d planned to scrub the computers and hock them on Craigslist, or schlep them to a local consignment shop to see what they’d bring. On second thought, despite assurances from several ‘experts,’ we weren’t comfortable having those ID info-rich machines out there somewhere, their innards being probed and tweaked to see what data about us they might contain. We were convinced that the scrubbing was sufficient. But there’s a difference between being convinced and being comfortable. The computers will be given away to trusted friends.

Move 3

The actual dinner table exited via Craigslist, so the card table took its place.

(Note the nearly empty wine rack. There’s a reason it’s like that)

Then there’s the existential aspect of a move across thousands of miles. Not to lapse into airey-fairey mode, but after witnessing the contortions and alterations we’ve been through over the past few months, we begin to understand that our ID has indeed been accessed. We’ve met the enemy and he is…us! Holly has a lot to say about this in Let The Adventure Begin. As Heraclitus said, we never step into the same river twice, and a move of such magnitude proves it. After all the disruption, uncertainty and upset across 2,000 miles to a new home, will we have a new identity as well? Of course we will. It remains to be seen who we’ll be, and what’s become of our identity, but at least we’ll recognize the thieves.

5 thoughts on “Expatriating & ID Theft

  1. I remember the year we prepared to sell, give away and become expats as involving equal parts disorganization and low-level panic as well as the feeling that we’d never get rid of all of our stuff nor get through the vast amount of paper that had accumulated with the years. I can well imagine the feeling of exuberance you must have had burning the paper piles. But throughout that year I also remember the bouyant feeling of anticipation and freedom that accompanied us almost daily as we shed our stuff and talked about living a lifestyle that would truly make us happy. You’re on your way to an incredible adventure! Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ME BE in Panama

      Anita/Richard: Thanks for reading the posts. You’re absolutely right, exuberance is the word. I guess we’re just a couple of weirdos, but rather than accumulate stuff, we’d rather have passport stamps. We’re so looking forward to being back in Boquete, and using it as a launch pad to the world. Maybe we’ll have to meet up somewhere, sometime. We’d love to hear your stories firsthand.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Assault on Panama: – mebeinpanama

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