I took the photo above from an Australia's Science Channel article about how to know if you've been hacked because last week, for around forty-five minutes, I believed our retirement savings were gone. Funny story...now.
At 7:10am, I got an email from our brokerage company saying that our account with them had been closed. Since my husband and I had not closed our account, I thought that the email, which did look official, might be a scam. (I have certainly gotten scam emails in the past that were not from the actual companies. I wrote a post in the fall of 2019 about getting scammed that way by a person claiming to be on AirBnB.) To make sure that the email was a fake, rather than click on the embedded link, I opened a new browser to log onto my account on the company's website. I got a message saying that my login information was wrong.
At that moment, my heart rate went up. I called the "contact us" link, only to find out that the company doesn't open until 8:00am. As my stomach started churning and my hands started shaking, I thought about how our entire account could have been vacated without our knowledge or consent. The questions piled up.
- Don't they double check when people my age close their retirement accounts?
- Shouldn't I have gotten an email if somebody tried to change my login information?
- Could the broker who's been so helpful to us in the past several years have been working a long con?
- Could someone have gotten hold of my old computer, with all its stored passwords, as the school had recently issued me my new laptop?
- How was I going to tell my husband that we wouldn't be able to retire at the time we thought, or maybe ever?
- What had I done wrong?
I'm a little embarrassed to say that I didn't tell my husband right away. Since he's sometimes a little more doom-and-gloom-oriented than I am, I decided to wait until I could call the company to find out if our broker had recently been fired for absconding with his clients' savings.
So I texted the broker, who has always seemed like a good guy. Then I took a shower and got ready for school. Finally, at 7:55, when we'd almost be able to call, I told my husband. Far from freaking out, he didn't bat an eyelash. He said that accounts can't just disappear. Everything's traceable these days. Without a second of worry, he said we'd be fine.
Of course he was right. It turned out that the company closed one account that had nothing in it and no activity. Remember that question about my old computer? Turns out that the company has such good safeguards in place that because it didn't recognize my new computer as my usual one, it wasn't letting me log in with stored passwords to make sure that I wasn't a hacker. So to sum up, everything that had me freaking out ended up being the system working exactly as it's supposed to work.
But those forty-five minutes gave me some important reminders.
- Don't worry about sharing my fears with my husband. He's makes me feel better in bad and good situations, and offers a rational, smart, reasoned point of view I often need. His intelligence and rational thinking and calm-in-a-storm support are among the reasons I love him.
- Don't leap to the worst case scenario. Even in 2020, most things haven't been the absolute worst possible.
- As soon as I started to freak out, my problem-solving skills flew right out the window. Because I let myself imagine rather than cogitate, I got to a mental place I didn't want to be and don't hope to visit again.
- Even the worst possible money problem isn't the worst possible problem. During the three quarters of an hour when I believed we had no savings left, I realized that financial ruin wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to us. In fact, it wouldn't even have been the worst thing we experienced in 2020. The cliché "It's only money" became real to me in a new way.
Have you ever had a moment like this one? Did you freak out or calmly figure things out? Did you open up to somebody else or go it on your own? Please feel free to share stories in the comments.