Identifying With Identity Theft
“I am he as you are he as
you are me and we are
– The Beatles
That’s fine and dandy if you are talking about peace, unity and all that flower power stuff. It’s a whole other ballgame if you are talking about your own personal identity. Those amusing Citibank TV commercials notwithstanding, identity theft is no laughing matter for those victimized by this epidemic crime of the Internet Age. And you better believe this fraudulent siege has serious implications for you and every aspect of your business.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 42 percent, or more than 214,000, of all the fraud complaints registered in 2003 were identify theft cases. Unfortunately, in the same way it often takes a robbery, burglary or fire to spur someone to purchase a security system, people typically do not consider identity theft seriously until they or a person they know is targeted.
If you or someone close to you has not experienced the horrific odyssey that identity theft typically triggers – and I sincerely hope you have not – allow me to shoulder the burden, as I have not been so unscathed. Allow me to explain.
I have always been an advocate and early adopter of new technology, especially the Internet. I was on AOL back when it charged by the hour, an avid user of eBay before it went public, engaged in E-commerce when no one knew what “shopping cart” software was, and jumped to online banking when only one financial institution offered it. Heck, I was even the first person I knew to meet their future spouse online – way back in 1994.
I felt like a cowboy galloping through the Wild West that is the World Wide Web. That was until I recently received a seemingly innocuous E-mail verifying I had changed the password on my account with a popular online payment service. There was one little problem – I had NOT done any such thing!
With panic beginning to set in, I hastily tried to log on only to discover I was locked out of my own account, one that was linked to my credit card and checking account! I immediately called the payment service, but they had just closed for the night. I then canceled the credit card and contacted a bank representative, who said no charges had come through.
I was somewhat relieved until the following day when my online banking statement showed a negative balance with charges totaling more than $40,000! Long story short, it took me several weeks and untold aggravation to straighten the mess out, and no one was ever able to explain how it happened. Luckily for me, my ordeal was minor compared to many.
Today, business owners need to take every possible precaution to secure sensitive data, including intellectual property and, especially, bank account, credit card and tax ID and Social Security numbers. This applies to themselves, their employees and their customers. Learn what the best practices are and share them with everyone in your organization as well as your clients (for more, visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft). Most importantly, implement them!
Your customers will appreciate that your interest in safeguarding them extends beyond a security system; that you are concerned about their overall well being. This may be conveyed through a direct-mail piece or newsletter. Additionally, when signing up new customers, exercise rigor in your credit checks to make sure people are who they purport to be as today’s environment increases the likelihood of default.
On the upside, as with most crime, identity theft will generate substantial dollars for our industry as equipment manufacturers and installers answer the demand for better ID verification solutions. But we must first take care of ourselves before we can help others stay one step ahead of the bad guys.
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