Monday, November 14, 2005

Taking a closer look at "identity theft" statistics

The Associated Press is distributing an article by Brian Bergstein that takes a closer look at the oft' cited statistics related to "identity theft." He, and the folks he has interviewed, suggest that the statistics of identity theft, particularly those based on public surveys, are probably overstating the problem. Probably a big part of the difficulty of coming up with meaningful statistics is lack of agreement on what is identity theft.

We need to refine our vocabulary so that we are sure of what we are discussing. At least to me, "identity theft" is not simple cheque forgery or using a stolen credit card. That's basic fraud. Identity theft is not the ilicit obtaining of personal information, by hacking, dumpster diving or otherwise. That might be theft of identifying information, but nobody's identity is stolen. To me, identity theft is the impersonation of an individual, without their knowledge, to obtain credit facilities or other such services. Perhaps a better term would be "identity hijacking", since the criminal is taking over that person's identity for his or her own purposes. Fraudulent charges and cheque forgery may be part of it, but it also includes obtaining new identity documents, new loans, mortgages and the like.

"Identity-related fraud" is the term I'd use for the larger basket of crimes that the media often call identity theft.

In any event, take a look at the informative AP article at the Chicago Tribune site: Chicago Tribune | Identity theft fears may be overblown.

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