Offline Identity Theft

I read this story today about how security consultants hired by financial institutions are demonstrating holes in the security of their physical files. The hired guns were able to walk into banks and credit unions with threadbare disguises and walk out with documents containing people’s vital info. The same information that identity thieves are stealing from the online world.

My response? Meh.

We’re already living in a world where if your unlucky number comes up and someone steals your identity, you’re going to be out a significant amount of time cleaning up the mess. The only thing you, personally, can do about it is keep an eye on your credit report (perhaps put a credit freeze on, if you’re really concerned), watch your bank and credit card accounts and be generally mindful of your finances. The fact that these institutions are being physically violated is less exciting to me than the millions of personal files that an incident like ChoicePoint releases into the wild.

Does this mean I’m blasé about identity theft? No. But I don’t think we’ll ever win the race of keeping our vital information under lock and key and away from would-be thieves. The solution needs to come from somewhere else. Credit card companies already absorb the costs of fraudulent transactions. Making other lending institutions who open accounts without properly verifying a person’s identity responsible for the headaches and financial burdens might be a good start. We live in a money-driven economy, so solutions won’t present themselves until it becomes cheaper for institutions to fix the problem than to pay the damages.

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