The crime of identity theft gets increasing attention. In 2005, ABC News conducted a poll that indicated consumer concerns about identity theft had risen sharply. They reported that, in 1998, fewer than 40% of U.S. adults were concerned about identity theft. By 2005, over 70% of all adults were worried that their personal information could be stolen through the internet. In 2006, over 90% of all New York voters were concerned about identity theft.
The news media, which is one of the most effective ways to learn about identity theft, is doing their job – at least as far as publicizing the degree of concern about identity theft. They have also been a good source of information about how individual consumers can prevent theft of their own personal and financial information.
In an era when electronic communications and the internet are making personal information easier to store and transmit, we are likely to continue to see increases in the number of crimes committed against unsuspecting consumers and wary businesses. The frequency of news stories reporting a companies’ failure to protect their customers’ information makes it clear that consumers and businesses alike are vulnerable to theft of personal information.
Today’s businesses that maintain databases of customers, their purchases, and their payments must be increasingly vigilant to protect that information from improper sharing and use. Although all big business is vulnerable, the most threatened sectors today are banking and lending institutions, real estate companies, facility management companies, and related fields. E-security becomes a bigger part of their operating costs every year, and the need for such security is supporting the growth of a new employment sector in the U.S. and abroad.
Responding as quickly as they can, both federal and state governments have passed or are working on updating laws that protect personal financial information and impose harsher penalties for the crime of identity theft. However, it is difficult to detect identity theft crimes while they are underway, and it is even more difficult to identify and catch the criminals responsible. A few identity thieves are even using their false documentation to conduct other crimes and escape prosecution.
New and different measures can be seen in the way credit and other financial transactions are done. One new protection is the “security freeze” that allows people to thwart access to their credit report without specific permissions. Consumers must request the freeze from each of the three major credit reporting services. Companies are allows to charge a fee of $10 for this service, but senior citizens older than 64 years and persons who are victims of identity theft are exempt from this charge.
Computer and internet security continues to be a major issue for businesses, especially when they want to attract customers. Advertising increasingly describes tough security measures and assures personal privacy in an attempt to address public concerns about identity theft. Programmers and software developers are working hard in a number of areas to create hack-proof solutions to the problem of identity theft.
For small companies and individuals, the use of removable storage devices like CDs and external hard drives are a practical security solution. But for large companies with thousands to millions of accounts, sophisticate large-scale solutions like firewalls, fingerprinting, and random PIN generators maybe more cost effective. Computer encryption, though a mystery to many of us, is relied on more and more by business to protect sensitive data and personal information.
In today’s news-rich environment, it should be clear that the crime of identity theft is still on the rise. Certainly, more people are aware of and concerned about it than ever before. And so far, law enforcement has not been able to catch up with technology. Identity thieves are ahead of the curve today. But this could change rapidly with the development of new automated solutions and enhanced security practices.
Very recently, FOX News reported that peer-to-peer network file sharing is a critical internet security vulnerability, despite the rising popularity of these networks. According to the FOX News article, Mary Engle of the Federal Trade Commission said, “The danger here is clear, as it is commonly acknowledged that criminals now troll file sharing networks for the sole purpose of finding sensitive data that can be used to commit identity theft.” But fortunately, Ms. Engle reported, a new security software called Identity Finder helps users find personal financial information within files, e-mails, and web browsers and then enables individuals to delete or protect the data using encryption.
To learn more about identity theft and how to prevent it, visit the Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC) on the internet at http://www.identitytheftassistance.org. ITAC is a non-profit group of financial service companies dedicated to help identity theft victims by reducing delays and frustration associated with restoring their personal financial integrity and identity. ITAC offers service for victims without charge, helping them inspect their credit reports for signs of identity theft and alerting consumers and businesses to possible fraudulent actions. In addition, ITAC is sharing this information with state and federal law enforcement in an attempt to help catch and prosecute the responsible criminals.