Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Media is Clueless on Identity Theft

Making the news today was a story about identity theft on a gigantic scale. A possible 45 million credit card numbers could have been stolen from US retailers TJX. Obviously a bad thing, but what really annoys me is the level of ignorance in the reporting.

While "identity theft" may be what this is being reported as, a far better term would be "credit card fraud" because that's basically what this was. The diference is that credit card fraud involves using someone's card details to commit fraudulent purchases, it's quite a simple crime. Identity theft is more involved and complicated, it generally involves applying for credit in someone else's name, it's a process that's riskier and involves a lot more legwork.

The important thing to realise is the difference. If your credit card is stolen, a fraudster simply has to do a bit of online shopping, If your personal details are lost, a thief will have to go through a complicated process involving the search for sufficient personal data and obtaining false documents in order convince to convince a financial institution that they are in fact you.

Most data loss scandals (including those by the government) such as lost laptops and similar data loss have generally contained personal details rather than financial information that can be used to commit direct fraud. The media often acts as if the loss of personal data could lead to some terrible occurance, the truth is that the danger in many data loss stories is often seriously overstated.

No comments: