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Risk

2/9/2007
07:24 PM
Patricia Keefe
Patricia Keefe
Commentary
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Combating The Black Market In Personal Data

Be afraid, be very afraid - but read today's cover story on the hacker economy anyway. It will both fascinate and scare the pants off you at the same time, as it details how our personal identities and financial histories are harvested, dissected in online chop shops and sold in multi-pack bundles to anyone willing to fork over a small investment in cash in return for making a big score in hours or days. (If you read nothing else, che

Be afraid, be very afraid - but read today's cover story on the hacker economy anyway. It will both fascinate and scare the pants off you at the same time, as it details how our personal identities and financial histories are harvested, dissected in online chop shops and sold in multi-pack bundles to anyone willing to fork over a small investment in cash in return for making a big score in hours or days. (If you read nothing else, check out the price list for your personal data.)The black market in personal identity "body parts" is big business, apparently not that hard to find and pretty easy to exploit. A CNN Special Report that aired in late January entitled "How To Rob A Bank," is also pretty scary. You can read the transcript or go to the podcast.

Is there any wonder that a just-completed survey of 181 banks by the trade group, America's Community Bankers, found that in the past 24 months, 70% said they had to reissue cards due to data breaches three times or more, and 39% said their bank had to reissue cards more than five times. Among debit card issuers, 89% said their customers had been affected by a data breach, compared to 53% of the credit card issuers.

The ACB estimates the average cost of reissuing each debit card is approximately $10-$20 per card. So a bank reissuing 10,000 cards three times at an average cost of $15 per card would incur a cost of $450,000.

It's those kinds of numbers that are finally making Congress sit up and take notice. As noted in a previous blog, the tide seems to be turning in terms of how the authorities are reacting to the loss and thefts of personal data. For example, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce this week announced a package of bills designed to protect consumer privacy from a variety of angles - Social Security numbers, phone records, spyware, consumer notification and data protection. While Congress rustles up legislation to look good during National Consumer Protection Week, there are steps individuals can take too.

For starters, forget about hiding behind your mother's maiden name - it ain't no big secret anymore. Invest instead, in a decent locked mailbox, or P.O. Box; get off the credit card offer and junk mail lists; don't leave ATM, payroll stubs and other like receipts laying around; and shred, shred, shred. And then shred some more.

Turn up the pressure on banks and card issuers to stop sending those stupid blank checks; on the county, state and federal agencies to stop the practice of selling or publicly posting documents that contain personally identifiable (and highly saleable) information, like your social security number; on restaurants to start processing credit cards at your table; on retailers and banks to mandate encryption of financial and personal data; on businesses, law enforcement and financial instutitions to immediately notify affected customers whenever a breach is discovered; and on Congress to mandate immediate customer notification, a basic standard of data protection, and a more evenly dispersed system of punishment and penalties for when these breaches happen.

A reader responding to my earlier blog on this subject, scolded that we can't compare the loss of a laptop with the breach of a financial database. They are, of course, different events, requiring different solutions - but the end result of the incident can be the same - the loss of customer privacy and identity theft. When you get right down to it - we don't care how our data is lost. We only care that it has been, and the potential harm that it can create.

In the 1967 movie TheGraduate, recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) was told to invest in plastics. Fast forward four decades, and this year's graduates might well be told to invest in biometrics and implantable RFID chips. I'm not keen on either, but it sure looks like we're headed that way. What do you think? Where is this all going to end? What is the impact going to be on consumer behavior, business intelligence, online purchasing and payment, and overall data security? And what should we be doing about it?

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