The first day: Wednesday
Forget sex, drugs, drinking, rock and roll, climbing mountains or jumping out of planes, the best thing in life is shredding. It’s not quite free though – my shredder set me back fully £10.99. I’ve only owned the machine for seven hours but already it’s given me a world of pleasure, far more than you could possibly hope to expect from a grey plastic box with a set of grinding teeth and a forward-backward switch.

Why do I love it? It’s not just the delight I get from watching destruction in action. No, it goes deeper than that basic pleasure in rip and ruin. It’s because the cheery-when-they-should-be-bleary sofa people on Breakfast TV told me this morning that shredding is going to stop some scurvy-faced bastard with no regard for the laws of this nation from stealing my life.

Television before work is a dangerous thing. I’m talking about the breakfast programmes here – the ones that start well, telling you what’s gone wrong in the world overnight, but then run out of steam around half eight. Once they’ve gone through the real news of the day, they still have a good half-hour before the numbing quiz shows, second-hand soap operas and trash-happy talk shows start up. And what do they fill those 30 minutes with? Soft stories that don’t deserve their place on a broadcast channel, that’s what. Magazine articles that graduate the switch from proper television for people who go to work to the non-viewing for those that don’t that comes on afterwards. It’s this half hour, when the screen is filled with tales of tunnels for toads and backbiting at the Royal School of Ballet, which offers you a helping hand in the gradual descent into torpor as you settle down on the sofa for a long day of doing absolutely nothing.

I wouldn’t normally watch television in the morning, but England had lost the night before and I didn’t want to let those interminably miserable sports reporters on the radio depress me further with their in-depth dissection of the boys’ no doubt profoundly abject performance on the football pitch. So I opted for the telly, where they always put a happier spin on things. And when I turned on to stew over my muesli, there was a discussion in full-swing on the right-angled sofa between the presenters and two unassuming sorts sat at ninety degrees from them. One of the guests was bearded, suited and booted, the other was going for a young media-man-around-town look (high-collared shirt, tight jeans – he hadn’t pulled it off, he had a little too much around the belly to make it work).

The presenters (who were well into the last half-hour of their morning’s work and obviously knew it was nearly time to scrape off the make-up) were sporting mild grins, and chatting about something they clearly felt wasn’t worthy of their time, least of all the million-odd idiots who were watching them. You could see it in their eyes “It’s not the Israeli-Arab conflict, so really who cares.” Identity theft was the topic of the day. And they’d got in a man from a firm that specialised in stopping it (suit) and a man who was recovering from being the unfortunate victim of just such a stitch-up (high collar).

So far, so ordinary – wouldn’t normally tempt me to hang around for the finale. I’ve heard about identity theft before – it’s just another thing that I could worry about, if I was the worrying sort. Problem was, my legs were aching from football the night before (I’m 31 – still young enough to be playing in the premiership, but blighted by too much beer and chips to make much of an impact with the boys on the 5-a-side pitch any more – if you wanted to be unkind, you could say I was a little out of shape), and the sofa held me long enough for the television to do its dirty work and grip me with its insipid evil sugary waves.

And I got pretty sucked in by what they had to say. The gist of the discussion was this: there’s a man out there who’s too idle to do a decent day’s work for himself. Instead of doing his graft, he wants to rob you, but not in the normal break-into-your-house-steal-the-jewels fashion. Oh no, his plan is to pilfer something much closer to your heart – your name, your integrity, your identity. Seems as this sort of criminal activity is as easy as rooting round in some unsuspecting sap’s bin, finding a few bits of post with the idiot’s name and address on them, and then heading down to the bank to set up a spurious bank account with the info you’ve gleaned, and away you go, you’re a fully paid-up identity thief. Pretty scary stuff.

Anyways, the media-lookalike on the TV sofa this morning had a terrible tale to tell of just this very thing befalling him. Turns out he’d just been through a few months of trauma trying to persuade a raft of banks, credit agencies and debt collectors that some cheeky beggar had been trading under his good name and run up a whole world of inconvenient expenses that he’d had nothing to do with the incurring of. I felt for the geyser, I really did. He seemed like an honest-enough bloke, just like me, trying to get along in life, just like me, who’d been dropped in the shit just because he was a little lazy with his personal document disposal – Jesus, the guy could have been me (well, except for the sartorial slip-ups – I wouldn’t have allowed that to happen to me on national television).

As if that’s not that bad enough, the sharp-suited fella sharing the innocent victim’s settee reckoned Mr Media’s troubles were far from out of the ordinary. Now, you’ve got to take his words in the spirit they’re given – he’s making a living by fighting at the sharp end of the war on identity theft, so you’d expect him to make it clear that there’s a problem, it’s growing, and it ain’t going away. But bless him, he didn’t do himself any favours on the new business front, because he foolishly let slip the panacea to all your identity theft ills: get a shredder and rip into infinity any scrap of paper you can find that’s got your name on it.

And so I did. I’m easily led by the telly, and it sounded like a pretty serious scam. I got a bloody good price too from the local stationary store too – just over a tenner for a device that’ll keep the proverbial identity theft wolves from the proverbial identity theft door. Even better, it turns out that the gadget is a joy to use. Since I got home this evening, I’ve been revelling in the smooth operation of my StripMaster 6. I’ve shredded every addressed scrap of mail lying around in the lounge. No doubt some of it would have been handy for record-keeping purposes, but no matter, it’s all gone now, and the key thing is that that bastard identity thief ain’t getting his dirty hands on it either. Nice work, Norm, your money, and indeed your identity, is safe tonight.

There’s a lot more shredding to be done, but I don’t want to have all my fun in one go, so I sit back and crack a beer open. There must be a whole heap of paper out there with all my most personal details writ large just waiting for an unscrupled individual to cast their beady little eyes over. Tomorrow, I’ll make it my mission to find and destroy all that I can. The worry, though, is that I could be too late. How can I be sure that my identity hasn’t already been purloined. Someone could be opening accounts in my name even as I rest my lazy arse on my imitation leather sofa. Action Norman, to arms.

The Internet will, I’m sure, be my saviour. The smooth-talking security supremo on the telly this morning definitely mentioned something about some firms that hold all the data your credit history reveals. I don’t even have to get off the sofa – my laptop’s right here in my bag where I dropped it when I got in from work. So I boot up the computer (broadband wireless internet in my gaff) and get cracking. ‘Credit History UK’ in Google gives up a stack of hits that sound like they fit the bill, so I clickthrough to the most likely sounding site and see what’s what.

And would you believe it – the low-down bastards want money for me to see what They know about Me. Can’t be right – that’s my personal data we’re talking about. I’m not asking to see someone else’s file after all – this is me. It’s after hours so I can’t phone up the support number – I can’t imagine they’d answer anyway, they never do – and vent my spleen. Luckily for them, they’ve got a free 30-day trial so I give that a go. I have to give them my credit card number and I know they’re banking on me forgetting to cancel before the trial is up, but I’m wise to their tricks. They won’t sting me for their £4.99 fee – I’ll be in, out and cancelled before they know what’s hit ‘em.

This whole credit history business is a tedious charade. Before I can find out what they know about me, I have to tell them more than I can remember about myself. The website wants me to enter in every single place I’ve lived in for the past six years – six years! I’ve moved house practically every six months for the last ten years. I should have known though – I was pumped for exactly the same reams of address nonsense when I was thinking of buying a place for myself a while back. The mortgage advisor I talked to wanted to bleed me dry of my postcode past before he’d even consider revealing to me how much debt his banking masters would be happy to consign me to for the rest of my breathing days. I was soon put right about the odds of purchasing my dream rat-raked hovel any time soon anyway – I earn enough to live on, but not enough to buy anywhere I’d want to live in

Anyhow, I settle in to cast my mind back to previous residences. I come up with as many former abodes as I can and enter them into the machine. It seems to do the trick. I’m in, the system accepts me. I wait while it considers the information I’ve proffered, and then it asks if I should like to view my credit report. Hell yeah, let’s see what they’ve got on me.

It turns out they have more than I thought, a lot more. In fact they appear to be genned up on every single financial contract that Norman P Namier has ever been foolish enough to enter into. The deal I signed to get my first mobile phone, the book clubs, all the bank accounts I’ve been duped into applying for, all those attractively advertised credit cards. Man alive, I’m surprised they didn’t have a record of the account my mum opened up for me 20 years ago, the one that gave me the free tube-penny-drop money box. And next to every financial record they have on me, there’s a friendly-looking row of cute icons; problem is they aren’t so sweet when you scroll down to the key and find out what they signify. Every one of the twee little bastards marks down whether you’ve paid your bills on time each month or failed to come up with the cash for your creditors.

They know too much. I didn’t authorise this. I feel my heckles rising. There’s years of data about me just sat there on some anonymous company’s database. I don’t recall ever asking them, or allowing them, to gather up all these facts about me. And this is just one business – if they have all these reams of data on my banking business, who knows who else has got it, and what they’re doing with it. Something’s not right.

On the plus side, my little experiment does demonstrate my exemplary credit history. The little icons prove that I’ve never yet defaulted on a payment in my 31 years on the planet. There’s a few question marks over that credit card that I only signed up for to get the airmiles but that’s only because I’ve never done anything more with the card than snap it and throw it in the bin – I guess they’re just shirty that I haven’t taken advantage of their no doubt hugely attractive interest rates and payment terms.

I’ve always been of the opinion that only stupid people get into debt – it’s all just a simple case of not spending what you haven’t got, you can call me old-fashioned about that if you like. It’s a policy that has clearly served me well, given the state of my credit report. So, I can at least rest easy, safe in the knowledge that none of these low-down identity thefts have been opening accounts in my name. That is the good part; the bad part, in my opinion, is much worse. There’s people out there who know things I don’t want them to know.

I go to bed feeling more than a touch uneasy about the whole experience. Wish I hadn’t caught that slot on the telly this morning, I was happier not knowing. Better to have your head in the sand about this sort than have to deal with it. Curious though that it the subject has taken such a grip on me today. I’m confident that tomorrow I’ll have forgotten all about it though – my mind doesn’t tend to linger on things for more than a few hours. That’s why all my good ambitions end up amounting to nothing – I’ve never got round to joining the local group that tidies up the park round the corner, or gone to the community centre to help with the scout pack. I’m a spur of the moment sort of chap I guess, I only tend to do things if they are directly in my field of vision. So come Tuesday, identity theft and shredding will surely be a distant, if slightly queasy, memory.


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