Saturday, August 07, 2010

Where’s the Crime in ID Theft?

by Sue Martines J.D. and Michael McCoy M.Sc.

Doesn’t its very name, identity ‘THEFT’ beg for its categorization as a “crime??” And isn’t thieving arguably the quintessential global crime throughout the ages? Our children play at being burglars, and video games , Hollywood, comics and authors profit from images of the classic “bad guy.” It’s just that those images aren’t historically of the stealthy computer whiz in his home abroad bartering online for our health insurance policy data so that it can be re-sold for tens of thousands of dollars!!

Unlike more traditional “theft,” identity theft has a business overlay that often overshadows the criminal nature of the crime!

In a non-empirical study of all news reports in the US on identity theft in the past 30 days, it appears that approximately 47% of all reported newsworthy identity theft stories relate to criminal cases. (See Google’s daily “identity theft” global search).

In other words, instead of just stories relating to how to travel this summer without identity theft risks (see or how to be ready to avoid identity theft when placing a catalogue order, per Heloise (see, or The Chicago Tribune telling you to shred your bills to prevent identity theft (see -- I’m talking about the stories on the two arrested in Maricopa, Arizona for using a stolen credit card at a local drug store (see or The Washington Post story on the security guard now charged with identity theft! (See

Why is it that the juicy stories about crime victims get usurped by the perhaps more mundane shred your receipt ones? And that the burden of the impact of identity theft seems to fall shamelessly upon the victims, consumers and businesses??

In fact, the business overlay is so bold with identity theft that the ever-evolving laws relating to it go more to the duties of business owners than to the culprit! (See the FTC’s Red Flags Rule as one example, requiring targeted businesses to have mitigation plans for identity theft.) Don’t get me wrong, this writer is not advocating for stricter criminal penalties, or some kind of high mandatory minimum sentence for the villainous identity thieves, or even that we should buy a lock and live in a cage – it’s just that current events bear observing.

Perhaps more creative measures are required to nab this newfangled thief. Who knows, maybe smart offensive strategies on the part of consumers and businesses will ultimately even offset the growth of identity theft!

Maybe it’s Pollyanna of me, but I can envision a video strategy game where the chivalrous prince outwits the cunning identity thief’s attempt to invade the castle via the king’s identity… and not just by buying Lifelock.

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At 5:10 AM, Anonymous Lisa said...

Self awareness is a good start in preventing this crimes we can't simply rely on law enforcement counter measures.
Greatly helpful post!


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