Update: The New York Times reported on my article yesterday.
In February, three reports from respected organizations were released on identity theft.
According to Javelin Strategy and Research, “…8.4 million adult Americans…learned last year that criminals committed fraud with personal data such as credit card or Social Security numbers. That’s down from 8.9 million in 2005 and 10.1 million in 2003.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft continues to be the top complaint received by the agency. In 2006, 36% of complaints received by the agency were about identity theft.
According to Gartner Research, “Identity theft fraud climbed more than 50% since 2003. About 15 million Americans were victimized in the 12 months ending August 2006…”
Who’s right? No one knows! I argue in my most recent paper, Identity Theft: Making the Known Unknowns Known, survey research cannot fully capture the identity theft problem:
Methodologically, these survey polls of the public suffer from being both under and overinclusive in measuring the problem. As a result, low estimates attribute tens of billions of dollars in costs to the economy and consumers, the highest estimates place losses in the hundreds of billions.
Such a scheme is already performed in the UK by CIFAS. Through CIFAS, UK banks voluntarily supply data about how they have prevented identity theft.
But CIFAS’ data is very limited. In order to identify proper interventions and appropriately allocate resources we need comprehensive, hard data on the scope and effect of identity theft. My proposal is to require lending institutions to publicly report figures on identity theft. Specifically, lending institutions should report: 1) how many identity theft incidences they suffered or avoided, 2) the form of identity theft attempted (i.e. new account fraud, credit card fraud, etc.) and the product targeted (mortgage loan, credit card, etc), and 3) the amount of loss suffered or avoided.
If we had this data, I think identity theft would decline greatly. This is because the disclosure requirement would birth an anti-identity theft market, and the prevalence and severity of the crime would decrease dramatically as institutions compete to offer the safest financial products to consumers. Just imagine the effort paid to identity theft when consumers could actually make rational decisions on which banks do the best job shielding individuals from the crime!