Five Ways to Fight ID Theft
What's more valuable than your own good name? ID theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the country. What's a CSO to do?
March 01, 2004 — CSO — This is how ID theft arrives at your door: When John N. Stewart tried to buy his wife a motorcycle, things did not go well. He had trouble getting credit and, to be honest, he had expected to, since he himself had issued a fraud alert with the credit bureaus warning creditors to be leery of anyone claiming to be John N. Stewart. He had no choice. Someone had forged a California driver's license in his name and used it to take out $3,500 of instant credit at an automotive repair shop in which he, the real John N. Stewart, had never set foot.
The motorcycle shop that his real feet eventually walked into needed to confirm that John N. Stewart was indeed creditworthy.
But they couldn't.
"When you say to a person from whom you're buying something, 'When you call to check, they might deny my credit,' cynicism sets in at the other side of the desk," says Stewart, director of corporate security programs for Cisco and former CSO for the Cable & Wireless subsidiary Digital Island. "They look at you like you're just a deadbeat that can't manage your credit."
For 16 months, Stewart worked to prove he wasn't a deadbeat. He pored over copies of his credit report, made explanatory phone calls and filled out legal documents. Still, when he walked down the street, he had the strange feeling that everyone he saw thought he had bad credit. It didn't matter that eventually he got the motorcycle. He felt angry and on edge all the time. "It becomes a very personal experience," he says, "and it's almost embarrassing. OK, it is very embarrassing."
What's more valuable than your own good name? Hardly anything, if the millions of dollars' worth of preapproved credit offers that litter Americans' mailboxes annually are any measure. That's why tales such as Stewart's strike fear in the hearts of the bill-paying populace. Identity theft is, after all, the fastest growing white-collar crime in the country.
A recent Federal Trade Commission study suggests that nearly 10 million Americans discovered in the past year that they had been the victim of some kind of identity fraud, ranging from simple credit card fraud to complicated cases of identity takeover. This type of crime costs individual victims an average of $500 each and businesses an estimated $48 billion a year. The problem is so acute that, in December, President Bush signed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003, which is intended to help consumers control and monitor their credit ratings.