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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Babes in the ID Theft Woods

I had the opportunity recently to talk to someone who had been the victim of identity theft. When you are around it constantly, doing research and blogging the results, you begin to assume that everyone knows as much as you do. The irony of this situation came crashing home when my wife and I met a young girl that had been victimized.

To make things worse, she was sitting in the emergency room of a local hospital, alone, and very scared about a condition that had come on suddenly, which was quite debilitating. Her mother had dropped her off quickly and then left to take care of her daughter. To top everything off, she told us after relating the above, that someone had just stolen her identity and made charges to an account which had just been opened.

She didn’t have the slightest idea what her next move should be and she said she could not afford an attorney. The confusion we saw in her face said everything. That account someone had scammed was opened to buy her daughter Christmas presents and now the store had shut it down. Since the girl had not yet even received a credit card for the account, it had to be an inside job. We had to move on to take care of my wife’s father—who was also in the ER—but left her with some good advice we hope she remembers.

To emphasize the plight of this young girl and others like her, Gene Koprowski has written an article you can find on titled “Forecast: ID Theft by Insiders to Grow Dramatically in ’06.” He is a top security analyst and is predicting that, even though companies install more security safeguards, their employees will find ways to breach these obstacles and steal your personal data. Comforting.

Joseph Ansanelli of data security firm, Vontu, says in the piece that retail employees will begin to realize even more so in 2006 just how valuable your name and private information are, and, if not “trained” to protect this valuable asset, they will continue to make off with your data. You don’t “train” someone to be honest; they either are or they aren’t. Even if they are on the fence, the right offer could make them fall on the wrong side.

From another angle, and it isn’t clear yet just what that angle is, 3,623 consumers’ names with data were stolen from one of the big-three credit report companies, TransUnion. The unclear angle is that it wasn’t reported as an inside theft, but it was stolen from one of their regional offices in California, at least from under the noses of their employees. You can read Jonathan Krim’s article in the Washington Post: “Data on 3,000 Consumers Stolen With Computer.”

TU says the computer was probably the reason for the burglary, not the data. Sure. Computer value, probably at most $500. Data value, at least $10,000. This is the same credit reporting agency that sued the Federal Trade Commission in order to sell your name and personal information, including some credit data, which was in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970. They lost, appealed to a circuit court and lost again, and finally filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court—which means, will the court hear their case—which was also denied.

So, I hope you can see where all this is going. Even if the data were secure within the facility where it is housed, you can still be victimized at the last point of contact, the retail clerk where you make your purchase, including the order-taker at the junk mail company from whom you order. But it isn’t safe with the data brokers, as evidenced by the recent theft from TransUnion and all the other ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, etc. events. And, Gene Koprowski in says it will just get worse in 2006.

The only answer is to pass federal legislation to give you control over your name and personal data. This will stop the identity crisis in its tracks and give consumers the confidence to work with organizations, when necessary, in the use of their private information. By the way, that legislation would also include paying you for its use.

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