Sunday, March 01, 2009

ID theft Unstoppable?


More and more we are seeing and hearing breathless coverage (but no solutions really) on ID theft. One headline recently read - "Is identity theft unstoppable?" (This seems rhetorical).

"Some 50 million identities have been compromised or stolen in the last six months alone. It's an infuriating, never-ending battle against determined hackers and identity thieves who are constantly probing for our names, dates of birth, credit cards, Social Security numbers, bank accounts, pin numbers and passwords.

A detective from Springfield, Ore. is quoted as saying "We can't protect your identity. We're left with picking up the pieces after it's been stolen."

Wow! Finally law enforcement is telling it like it is. ID theft is not the strength of most police departments. Since crimes are often committed from far away the question of jurisdiction becomes a huge obstacle in a victim getting help.

Oregon's solution to this law enforcement problem is a task force led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Hoar that " ... has recovered dozens of forged IDs, checks, bank statements and a treasure trove of high-tech tools used by identity thieves — some of whom used couriers to carry and encrypt personal data. But overall, they were small players."

In 2009 there is still no national law on data protection and the system is a patchwork of state laws.

"If this were an illness, Congress and the United States would be calling for an all-out war on this illness, because it would be critical for the American people," says Rob Douglas, who runs the Web site PrivacyToday.com.

The issue is gaining momentum, with several bipartisan proposals aimed at restricting the use of Social Security numbers and creating a new cyber-security center. The latest bill would require companies that collect data to tighten controls and tell customers how that information is used.

"I don't want to know my info is being sold in some chat room in Eastern Europe because some company handled it improperly," says Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

But many financial institutions — some of the very institutions that prosecutors say have failed to do even basic double-checking — oppose new laws, promising instead better self-regulation.

"What we found is that a lot of entities don't actually cross-check the names or dates of birth associated with Social Security numbers," says Conrad.

The Obama administration and Congress have moved up cyber-security and ID theft to a higher level of alert.

Moreover, many tens of thousands of people have been attending our workshops and trying to develop a "Culture of ID Security" for themselves and their clients. This has already helped slow down the frequency of casual ID theft according to FTC statistics.

Our book The Silent Crime and the new small companion booklet "Silent Crime Too" (also called the "Red Book") as well as articles such as "Get Smart About Identity Theft" in the magazine Smart Solutions (March 2009) have been widely read and followed.


© 2008 msnbc.com Reprints URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8422940/

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