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Financial Literacy - Protecting your identity Click Here
Banks: Fess up
Financial institutions should have to publicly report basic statistics on their fraud rates, says this privacy law expert.
Protecting your identity

Spotlight: Chris Jay Hoofnagle

Consumers get a lot of advice about protecting themselves from identity theft.

At a glance

Shred everything. Delete e-mails asking for account information. Avoid recklessly divulging your Social Security number even though a number of businesses, from doctors to cell phone companies, demand it. Be aware of the lurking threat at every turn and with every debit card swipe.

Citizens, vulnerable as sheep to ID-hungry wolves, might take reasonable precautions to guard their identities as closely as possible. Yet the Sisyphean task of maintaining absolute control over every piece of vital information can be undermined by businesses entrusted with delicate consumer data.

Chris Jay Hoofnagle wants to make it easier -- for businesses as well as consumers.

His paper, "Measuring Identity Theft at Top Banks," made headlines because it revealed the prevalence of identity theft at major banks by analyzing complaints made to the FTC during three months in 2006.

His hypothesis: Requiring financial institutions to disclose their identity theft statistics enables consumers to choose safer banks. In the spirit of competition, banks will work harder to offer more security and lose less money to thieves. Everyone wins.

How did you get involved with identity theft?

It's the issue that drives most privacy concerns and it causes substantial harm to consumers and to the economy overall. Identity theft prevents many people from engaging in e-commerce.

The more I've learned about new-account identity theft, the more it's become clear that it is a preventable crime that exists because business incentives prioritize new customer acquisition over prevention of fraud. It's an example of an industry that is thinking about its short-term interests, and in the long term, it could erode consumer trust in banking and e-commerce.

-- Posted: April 21, 2008
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