Identity thieves are popular media bogeymen these days – those shady characters waiting around every corner to snatch your credit card, your Social Security number and any other information that will help them assume your identity and make fraudulent purchases under your name. A couple years back, Citibank made a series of amusing commercials showing everyday people talking with the rascally voices of the thieves who’d stolen their information (and their bodies, or so it seemed).
But should you really worry about identity theft? And if so, how much? Every day when you step outside a world of risks await you: driving a car, getting on a plane, crossing a street, even eating your lunch. How does identity theft stack up, and what can you even do to stop it?
A report in late January from the Better Business Bureau suggested that the number of identity theft victims has dropped from 4.7% to 4.0% of the population, that most theft occurred in the same old ways — lost or stolen wallets, credit cards, checkbooks — and that Internet theft was rare. Further, of those who found out who took their information, almost half of the thieves were people they knew. And most victims lost more time than money due to theft. They didn’t have to pay fraudulent charges on their credit cards, but they still had to go through the hassle of getting new cards, ID, etc. issued to them.
When Washington Post reporter Caroline Mayer reported this on her blog, she got some vociferous complaints that the survey was sponsored by the financial industry, that it was impossible to assume that most theft was done offline because most people surveyed didn’t know how it happened, and that consumers might not have to pay for identity theft directly, but businesses would pass those costs through one way or another.
Recent news stories about large credit card databases being hacked add fuel to the fire. In the past year, millions of credit card numbers have been vulnerable to theft (if not actually used) from a number of large computer security breeches. Earlier this year, the parent company of the Boston Globe actually wrapped a day’s newspaper bundles with sheets containing subscriber bank data.
What can you do to stop identity theft? Well, you can’t personally secure the credit card databases of every retailer you deal with, but you can keep a close watch on your valuables (even around those you know, according to the BBB survey), or use “virtual” credit cards. You can even stop using credit cards and ATMs altogether, stash your money under your bed and hunker down for the apocalypse. But who wants that?
In today’s world, does the risk of identity theft outweigh the benefits that modern financial technology brings? Should it change the way you live? Has it already?Powered by Sidelines