Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Identity-verifying questions are getting personal

The Boston Channel WCBV-TV is carrying a report about intrusive and more than slightly creepy questions that credit card companies are asking to verify the identity of card holders. After a string of "suspicious" purchases prompted a credit card company to put a fraud alert on a consumer's card, the customer was required to answer a number of unexpected questions to prove she is who she says she is:

TheBostonChannel.com - Money - Are Credit Card Companies Getting Too Personal?:

"... 'And they said, 'In order to get your card reactivated and take the fraud protection off, we're going to have to ask you some questions.' And she said, 'I want to warn you that some of these questions might sound a little unusual,'' Santilli said.

Unusual and, according to Santilli, invasive.

'Well, the first question was the age group of a former husband of mine,' Santilli said. 'But then the next question that came up was about my former husband's sister. And they asked me, 'In which county is she likely to live,' and they asked her name specifically.'

'I said, 'I can't believe you're asking me this.' And then she apologized again,' Santilli said.

Santilli answered the questions; Providian removed the fraud alert. But the experience left Santilli shaken.

'I was expecting to be asked my mother's maiden name, my Social Security number, maybe what I purchased that day and for what amounts. Anything else but questions about a past relationship,' Santilli said.

WJAR-TV contacted Providian. It reported Providian uses a security system that gathers information about card holders.

'When the customer calls in, we use an electronic system. It automatically generates verification questions using public sources,' Providian spokeswoman Beth Haiken said.

Where do they get that information? The station reported that companies like Providian can get it at city and town halls or anywhere else public records are available. It's all legal because they're public records, according to the station."

It's probably worth noting that this wouldn't fly in Canada. Publicly available information may be used without consent, but only for the purposes for which it is made available in the first place. I can't see that municipal records are made available for this purpose.

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