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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thursday Ruminations

Identity Crisis Gains Momentum

A recent data breach at TJ Maxx, a discount chain, illustrates the level of sophistication attained by the ID thieves. An article on ZDNet indicates, “…it was a well orchestrated, targeted attack…same people who have broken into systems at other retailers.” Never thought I’d see the day when the identity crooks would specialize, but it’s happened. With the involvement of organized crime, I am convinced the bad guys maintain their own databases on American consumers, to use when and as they see fit. Business and government cooperate fully by continuing to collect every piece of private information they can get their hands on and managing to lose it regularly.

Charities Not So Charitable Anymore

I did an earlier post on junk mail fundraisers about how charities sell your name. In this it was noted how your name breeds like rabbits when making just one contribution, moving with lightning speed from one philanthropic organization to another. Also covered was a list of major charities, and what percentage of the take they devote to their programs. From my experience as a data broker, they sell your names, with limited personal data, as aggressively as regular junk mailers. But an MSNBC article by Sharon Hoffman lowers the boom on this field, starting with a Harris Poll that found only 10 percent of Americans strongly believe charities are “honest and ethical” with your contributions. Apparently Congress is concerned about some nonprofits’ tax-exempt status, and are taking action.

Your Name is “Forever” to Junk Mailers

Over thirty years ago I used a decoy name to purchase a product from a company whose name I can no long remember. A decoy is something junk mailers employ to track what the competition does in their mailings. You simply change a middle initial, which identifies the company from which you made the purchase. Just yesterday I received a mailing to this decoy; another had been received in October of 2006. It just shows how long your names and personal data are maintained on file by the junk mail industry. Another big offender in this area is those unknown mortgage companies you get mail from right after closing a mortgage. Received one of these in October of 2006 that was 14 years old. My point is just how many locations where your sensitive data can reside, and how many years it sits there a virtual goldmine for ID thieves.

Guns Don’t Kill…B_ _ _ S_ _ _!

A Reuters’ article on MSNBC quotes advocates saying this “administration ‘in denial’ about weapons’ role in violence.” Having heard nothing of substance on this subject from the Democrats recently, I doubt if they plan to focus on gun control either. Reuters reports: “More than 30,000 people die from gunshot wounds every year, through murder, suicide and accidents.” To give you an idea of the magnitude of the gun industry, there are 49 junk mail lists on the market under the heading of “guns.” When you Google mail-order guns, you get 1.2 million hits. One in particular blew me away when in response to why they didn’t give their phone number on the site; their clouded answer indicated it was simpler for you to respond my e-mail first. Of course they didn’t mention they will keep your e-mail address forever, perhaps reminding you in the future of their Colt or Smith & Wesson special. I won’t even give you the site because it is so easy to order firearms. In all fairness, law prevents delivery by mail; you must pick up the gun from a local dealer, but this is a simple three-step process. On a personal basis, I met someone here in Arizona—yes, it is legal to carry firearms here with a permit—who, along with his wife, has permits to carry concealed weapons. According to him, for no reason other than he needs to protect himself. Since I don’t even have a gun, guess I run with a different crowd, one I don’t need protection against.



The college and university community for allowing multiple data breaches of student, staff and faculty sensitive data. UCLA lost 800 thousand records, Boston College 100,000. USA Today reports 109 such breaches on 76 college campuses since January 2005. Security is low and interest by ID thieves is high, because they can get the same personal data easier than from most commercial databases. Education is way behind the times in the protection of private information, and needs to catch up fast. Otherwise, the “gov-ment” might have to do something.

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