Identity Theft Study Revisited
Some consumer advocates who specialize in privacy issues have written to complain about a blog item last week on a new identity theft study done by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Strategy and Research, a consulting firm for the financial services industry.
Their complaints centered on the statement: "Almost half of all identity theft is perpetrated by someone the victim knows: friends, neighbors, family members, in-home employees, etc."
Beth Givens, Director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, said that statement "is only half correct." According to Givens: "The survey found that only 36% of victims know who the imposter is. Of that 36%, just over half are closely associated with the victim such as a family member, friend, neighbor or in-home employee. So, for the statement to be correct, it should be written something like this: 'Of those victims who know the identity of the perpetrator, which is 36% of victims surveyed, one half of those are closely associated with the victim such as family members, friends, or in-home employees. Thus, for 18% of the victims, or about one in six, the perpetrator is someone close to them.'"
Givens continues: "By stating that half of all ID theft crimes are caused by a family member or someone closely connected to the victim, the reader is led to think that the key prevention strategy should be that individuals safeguard their personal information in the home. While that is true and should be done no matter what, this erroneous statistic obscures the bigger prevention issue. Prevention is most effectively addressed by the credit issuers in the procedures they take when they evaluate the credit applications they receive (by noting anomalous addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth for example). ID theft would not be the huge societal problem it is today if credit issuers would do a better job weeding out the obviously fraudulent applications they receive from imposters."
James Van Dyke, founder of Javelin, stands by his company's study. "Some have speculated that crimes from victims who lack knowledge of the perpetrator's identity or method may have a significantly different pattern from the 'known' crimes. Javelin collected data from a variety of sources and analytic methods, which kept pointing to the original conclusion: Identity fraud crimes are much more traditional than is popularly believed, which means that we must protect ourselves through all transaction methods, and not just the Internet."
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