Someone asked me once, “Why do you carry so much cash on your person?” They were concerned for my safety, thinking this behavior increased the chances of getting robbed. My thinking is quite the opposite. Unless someone sees me at an ATM, or worse is following me, (unlikely, I am a big boy) this will not even be an issue. On the other hand, I personally know people who trust several strangers during the course of the day with their debit cards. These, as I mentioned before, are total strangers, and they put in their hands, the card, with the numbers right on it! They, with no reservations, reveal this information for Lord only knows who. I mean, do not get me wrong, the lady at McDonalds obvious went through some sort screening process before they allowed her to work the drive-thru. Surely, she would not steal, right? I watch people daily, including my loved ones, just swipe away, ten, sometimes twenty times a day. This practice is so absurd to me. Anyone can take a quick picture of your card and make, for instance, an online purchase with your card. Eventually, this could amount to a huge breach put in the hands of the right crook, and people are with good conscience, doing this on a daily basis.
Now, I do understand some of the everyday convenience that comes with swiping the magic card, (in moderation, while closely monitoring it) paying for parking and fuel, the purchasing of entertainment tickets, or maybe online bill paying. It just really gets me how freely people just whip it out and give it the shadiest of characters, (at least get a receipt!) then get surprised when there is a problem, and that is only after they check their statement, some 30 days later.
My next subject concerning identity theft would have to be something that has gained much popularity in the past few years. It seems, every time lately when I check my email spam section, there are several people from which I have inherited money. How did I get so lucky! Most of them come from outside of the United States, (Nigeria is used frequently) are upwards of a million U.S. dollars, and are very attractive offers. All you have to do is give them your personal information such as date of birth, bank routing number and bank account number and your rich. Really, who falls for this, somebody must be taking the bait, due to the prevalence of these offers? Anyway, I take it as an insult, (sometimes responding rather ugly) and wonder how they are getting my email address in the first place. I imagine somewhere, (probably in Texas) some guy’s job is to sit in a little room where he sends lists of email addresses to the Nigerians, and he gets a percentage of the robberies. I bet his parents are proud. It must be working though, since I, and other I have talked to continually receive the emails.
Identity fraud has become a very common occurrence in the last 20 years. With the gained popularity of the internet, identity theft has affected over 13 million victims per year, and has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Companies are cashing in on it, promising to protect consumers from this felonious behavior. To protect yourself from identity theft there are many protection services that will, of course for a “small” fee, provide consumers with daily monitoring of the information that is most often compromised by identity thieves. Some also include software to protect your computer and will even throw in access to your credit scores. Those companies, which include some well-known sources, such as Identity Guard, Life Lock, and AARP, will freeze your assets if “abnormal” activity is detected on your accounts. They can use such technology as geological location tracking, and biller information to cross reference against customer provided data. Personally, in my conspiracy-theorist mind, I think the very companies who are offering this protection, are the ones who are making it necessary. They create a scare, inflate the numbers of breaches advertised, and as I mentioned earlier, cash in on all the frightened and intimidated consumers. Certainly in the capitalistic world we live in today, this must have merit, but again, it is just my opinion.
The law will prosecute identity theft and identity fraud under federal statutes, for example;
Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act . This legislation created a new offense of identity theft, which prohibits "knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law." (Department of Justice)
These laws will only deter the honest criminal though, if you will. It’s like putting a lock on a door. Weighing out the crime in relation to the punishment, factoring the risk of getting caught, the thief may feel comfortable and relatively safe. I would imagine identity theft can be easily done in one’s own home with the use of a personal computer. This is what makes this particular crime so scary. There are no surveillance cameras, fingerprints, or witnesses. This makes this an almost perfect crime, given the right target. The best defense would be, first of all, to ignore offers of millions of dollars from foreign dignitaries and royalty. Then, monitor your credit report semi-annually. If you must swipe the debit card several times daily, which again is just not a good idea, keep a “slush” fund of sorts in a separate but limited account, and monitor it more than once a month, when the statement comes out. These simple practices could prevent an otherwise happy-go-lucky consumer, from being the victim of identity theft, or identity fraud.