Deeply, deeply scary.
You get home on Friday evening and settle down on the sofa for a well-earned nap in preparation for gin o’clock a little later on.
The eyelids start to droop, a drowsy numbness, all that stuff. And then the phone rings. It’s an automaton, from the bank. They’ve made most of the real people redundant.
“If this is Mr Hoooough Dixon, please press the hash key.” Well, it is Mr Hugh Dixon, so we’ll excuse the mangled vowels and press away. Because this sounds like trouble.
(On the subject of hash keys, did you know that the official name of the symbol that looks like a nought-and-crosses grid is the “octothorpe”? Which might be because it bears a slight resemblance to a village with eight fields around it. But then again, it might not.)
Get to the point, Dixon. It’s more than likely this chronic lack of concentration that got you on to the receiving end of a disturbing phone call from a humourless banking android in the first place.
Said cyborg, meanwhile, is asking probing questions about the second and ninth letters of your mother’s maiden name.
You cast your mind back over several decades of family history scrabbling for an acceptable answer, and eventually the drone gives you security clearance. “Please listen to a list of five recent transactions on your account,” it says in its robotic way. Ooh heck.
Even to someone whose hold on his personal finances is about as tight as that of Jedward on a musical note, words like “ATM”, “withdrawal” and “Colombia” spell trouble.
Especially when combined into a single sentence with sums like £17.36, £65.32 and (bizarrely) £1.01.
You press the hash key like mad to indicate that you don’t recognise any of these subtropical transactions. Never mind octothorpes, this is serious. Because someone, it appears, has taken your bank card for a spin on the mean streets of Bogotá.
It’s been cloned.
When the robot learns that it isn’t you who took a quick shopping trip to Latin America, its tone becomes even more businesslike.
“Please hold while you are transferred to one of our staff,” it drones, tacitly admitting what you knew all along: it’s a protocol droid, and you’ve got a walk-on part in Attack of the Clones.
Oh, and while you’re waiting, here’s some classical music. And some more, and some more, and some more. With recorded interruptions from a real person telling you how busy all the other real people are.
The worry levels increase as the wait stretches from five to ten minutes. It’s lucky for the bank that Bach isn’t around any more to collect the royalties: it’d take more than a further round of quantitative easing to pay off that little lot.
And the stress cranks up further when the family get home to find you with the phone glued to your ear and the word “fraud” on your lips.
Eventually you get to speak to that real person. They cancel your card and they reassure you: all dodgy transactions have been declined, the Dixon millions haven’t vanished in a haze of Bolivian marching powder, and they’ll send you a new card in the next two to three working days. Which they do.
All very quick and efficient, but it leaves you wondering: who cloned the card, and how did the bank find out?
Deeply, deeply scary.