My dad is a pretty cool guy. He’s dapper, charming, and polite to a fault. He comes from hardy Yankee stock, and often makes references to childhood stories that give us pause (“My father and I built that chimney,” “That reminds me of the time we put a firecracker in a fish and threw it over the bay,” “It’s no fun to wake up and find that poodles have peed in your shoes,” etc).
But, perhaps because he is one of those “liberal Yankees” we so often disparage Down Here, he has several other, more abrasive traits which I find rather endearing. He has an almost overdeveloped sense of right and wrong – if his belief in justice were any stronger, he’d have to wear a cape. This couples with the sort of tenacity rarely found outside of Christian missionaries and 19th century British colonialists to create one hell of an investigator.
He started out as a journalist, first up north, where nothing happens because it’s snowing, and then in Tampa where nothing happened because the Mob ran a tight ship. I jest, of course, he covered a murder his first day in town and eventually did an almost-award-winning series on the “Cigar City Mafia.” (If you recognize that as the title of an acclaimed book, you’re correct. If you notice that that book was not written by my dad but utilizes much of his research, you are also correct. Note I did not link to its Amazon page.)
He’s something of a folk hero even within the family, my boyfriend Calvin holding him in particular reverence. He whispers “badass,” when he hears one of the oft-retold stories of his exploits, and has said, “your dad could go to a hot dog stand and it would turn out to be a mafia hot dog stand.”
The nature of dad’s work has always made him better informed than we mere mortals, from “do not shop in that store – trust me,” to “Oh, god, it’s the former commissioner of such-and-such, I hope he didn’t see me, he’s such a jerk.” He’s always repeated to us, mantra-like, to always, always, always read the fine print, and to never, never, never, give out our personal information. In my house, much like Calvin’s house, credit card companies were at best a ravenous monster which we should trust minimally and use warily, and at worst the harbinger of the Antichrist.
Calvin’s mom, in fact, indirectly blames credit cards for all of Calvin’s childhood issues with school and society. She was a stay-at-home-mom when his older sisters were growing up, but feels Calvin lost the benefit of that because scarily mounting credit card debt required her to go back to work when he was still very small. She looks back on this bend in the road wistfully, thinking that if it had gone differently, her son would have had a better childhood and a better relationship with her.
College was another well-tended expectation in both our houses. My mom came from an academic family of teachers, professors, and perpetual students, and of course, had her own Ph.D. My dad came from a family for whom immigration was no distant memory – for him, college was a way to prove himself and reach for something better than roofing, which was his father’s profession (Dad always said, “my father’s idea of power tools was two guys with shovels”).
Calvin’s parents and sisters all graduated from Florida State University, the former putting themselves through working as lab techs before a degree was required to become a lab tech. His brother-in-law is at present working on his Ph.D., and the whole family has enough Master’s Degrees between them to frighten a coal-mining town.
So Calvin and I were more than a little dismayed to learn that the Great Evil of credit cards and the Great Good of college were strolling off arm-in-arm into the sunset.
Back to my dad: He’s now a top-notch fraud investigator at a nice law firm, where his aforementioned tenacity and sense of justice can sometimes lead him to put in hours and hours of work investigating things which are clearly wrong on many levels but not necessarily prosecutable.
One such recent case involved him looking into the level of care Florida State put into handling their students’ personal information. This was of direct concern to me, as I’m in the process of giving them all of my personal information in order to apply for admittance in the future.
As it turns out, the University I’ve revered since childhood has taken to giving Bank of America their students’ names and home addresses so as to more easily market FSU themed credit cards to them.
I can’t get past how sleazy this is. It’s beyond cavalier indifference to the students’ well-being, it’s something much more sinister, much more wicked and hypocritical. To make videos alerting college kids to the dangers of credit card debt and to then turn and sell them to those very creditors?
The whole student body is so attuned to physical danger, to the big scary world outside their hometowns, a world of date-rape and bars and the vulnerability that shadows loneliness – and yet without their consent or knowledge, the digital bits and pieces that make up their very identities are being offered up to people who are infamous for trashing and erasing them.
My Dad made an attempt to interview some students on campus the other day, unimpressed by his suit, business cards, and salt-and-pepper beard, about half of them automatically assumed he was a creepy old guy who wanted to throw them in the back of a van for some nefarious purpose. Admirable caution.
But what to do when the people to whom we have entrusted our safety prove untrustworthy? When even playing it safe isn’t safe enough?
Calvin tells me that I should always operate at cop-level awareness, a hangover from his days in the local police cadet program. He has a whole color coded awareness chart, just like the Department of Homeland Security. The lowest level is white, and he says the only time I should ever be there is when I am asleep.
It is in that spirit that I’ve written this blog: awareness. We should all be looking out, looking as far ahead as we can, for ways we can get hurt. And if we see a societal problem, the least we can do is pass it on, change it if we can, or at least help others avoid it.
To learn more about the how some schools are profiting from their students’ personal info, check out this site my dad’s working on right now. And please, pass it on.