Thursday, November 17, 2005

ID theft figures exaggerated

Brian Bergstein (via Bruce Schneier's blog) points out that identity theft figures should be taken with a pinch of salt:
Consider a February survey for insurer Chubb Corp. of 1,866 people nationwide. Nearly 21 percent said they had been an identity theft victim in the previous year.

But when the questioners asked about specific circumstances -- and broadened the time frame beyond just the previous year -- the percentages diminished. About 12 percent said a collection agency had demanded payment for purchases they hadn't made. Some 8 percent said fraudulent checks had been drawn against their accounts.

In both cases, the survey didn't ask whether a faulty memory or a family member -- rather than a shadowy criminal -- turned out to be to be the culprit.

It wouldn't be uncommon. In a 2005 study by Synovate, a research firm, half of self-described victims blamed relatives, friends, neighbors or in-home employees.

When Chubb's report asked whether people had suffered the huge headache of finding that someone else had taken out loans in their name, 2.4 percent -- one in 41 people -- said yes.
This is important to bear in mind when the UK government claims that identity theft is an enormous problem that justifies the introduction of ID cards (not that cards would make much difference anyway in solving that problem).

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