Monday, June 06, 2005

Identity Theft

In this day and age of online bill paying and other electronic transactions, one might be inclined to look to the Internet as the weakest link in protecting your "identity." But two stories that I read today prove that you are pretty much not safe from identity theft even if you personally guard your information or you are forced to use too much sensitive information in your daily life.

The first story comes from New York where CitiFinancial has announced that they have lost 3.9 million customers' personal information including Social Security numbers and payment histories. The information was contained on data tapes that were picked up by UPS last month and have disappeared in transit to a credit reporting company. It's bad enough that UPS lost such an important package but what in the hell was such sensitive material being shipped by UPS for?!? It would seem like this would be the type of material that would be hand carried in a briefcase handcuffed to the arm of a man in a black suit with training in martial arts and a concealed handgun. Am I wrong?

The second story is very disturbing indeed. A community college professor in Winter Haven, FL has been charged with using some of his students names and Social Security numbers to get credit cards for department stores. This has been on the verge of happening for a long time. I remember when I was in college, there was a lot of debate of the use of Social Security numbers as a method for identification of students. The risk is that these numbers were posted in public places so that students could confidentially check their grades. But the problem is that it only takes a few unscrupulous professors or other students to fraudulently acquire numerous credit cards.

I have heard stories of people who have been victims of identity theft and their lives have been made very difficult by fraud. They have had trouble getting future credit to buy a home, car or even business loan. For all the talk and concern with protecting personal information, these two stories are examples of very preventable occurrences.

I myself have been in a similar situation. About a year ago, I received a letter from the company I used to work for stating that one of their servers had been stolen. The server contained personal information of a large number of employees including Social Security numbers. My former employer was gracious enough to pay for a credit check for all employees but that doesn't excuse the fact that someone was able to steal a server from their corporate offices!

I went ahead with my credit check and was very disturbed to find numerous identity errors in my report! My father and I have the same name and that always caused confusion when I was growing up. He and I would open each others mail inadvertently, but what I saw on my credit report was both startling and frustrating. There were several entries included on the report for credit cards that were in my father's name. Furthermore, there were listings for addresses that I had never lived at but my father had. But the information that infuriated me the most was the listings of OTHER SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS!!!!! One of the other numbers was my father's number and I have no idea to whom the other belonged. This was on my official credit report from one of the three national credit monitoring agencies! If they can't keep identities straight, who can we trust?!?

Sadly I think that things are going to get worse until they get better. It's already too easy for malicious people to steal identities, and the companies that should be helping are not doing a very good job right now. I for one am going to keep shredding those pre-approval credit card applications and hope for the best.

1 comment:

57 Reedy said...

yea, we could supply enough energy to heat Rhode Island in the winter, if we burned all of the paper wasted on those pre-approved card apps.