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Friday, September 16, 2005

Identity Theft, Junk Mail and Your Mailbox

An advertisement ran in major print media last June stating that, “…the majority of identity theft still takes place in low-tech ways—stolen purses, wallets and stolen mail…” There was a large picture of the rural type mailbox, front open, with the word “Database” pointing to the inside. A headline exclaimed: “Most identity thieves don’t gather their data from a computer.” The implication, of course, is that ID thieves rely on this source most often to steal your name and personal data.

In a response to the ad by the U.S. Postal Service, reported by DM News, leading junk mail industry publication, their position was that the ad was not true. They quoted an FTC report that found that stolen mail only accounted for 4% of identity theft in the U.S. Further, that 53% of identity theft is from online activities.

The ad in question was run by a group called Your Credit Card Companies, identifying the following financial institutions: Citibank, MasterCard, MBNA, Discover Card and Chase. If you go to their site, YourCreditCardCompanies.com and click on Media Center/Materials, then click on Advertising, and finally, on the ad headline, “Most identity thieves don’t gather their data from a computer,” you’ll find they’ve changed the picture from a mailbox to two garbage cans. The basic ad stays the same. Oh, the power of the U.S. Postal Service.

But when you analyze the total problem, and where the easiest link to your name and personal data is, I think the mailbox, and the garbage can, do rank right up there at the top. Here’s why.

According to Synovate, a research company that is part of the Aegis Group, US households received an estimated 5.23 million credit card offers in 2004, up 22% over 2003. Percentage of homes receiving a credit card offer was 71% with an average per month of 5.7. The financial junk mailers are blanketing almost three-quarters of the country and hitting on these households almost six times per month—which is, in itself, enough to become alarmed over—but they still wonder why ID theft is rampant…?

Tell the truth. How many of you shred the info page of credit card offers, and I don’t mean just tearing it into even small pieces? Our household does, and, knock on wood, we’ve never had an incident. We were getting well over 5.7 mailings a month, enough to stack two feet high in a short period of time when I measured it. So get on the band wagon and get yourself a shredder and at least you have done all you can.

Let me leave you with some startling facts. Eighteen percent of the population has been victim to identity theft. That’s almost one in five…52 million consumers. Eleven percent, or, almost 32 million senior citizens, those most vulnerable, are in that figure, representing over 61% of the total. You can go to the Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index and see all the data.

There are two sites and the second, headlined, “21 percent of victims say theft of personal or financial information was done by someone they knew,” is a shocker, but, once again, confirms my belief that identity theft can be stopped only by giving consumers 100% control over their names and personal data.

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