Monday, February 23, 2009

Identity theft - the most prevalent crime in America?

I spoke at the Society of Government Meeting Professionals regional meeting in Oklahoma City this weekend. If you haven't been to Oklahoma City recently, its Bricktown area is nice - with a great baseball park, new NBA stadium, and a nice "riverwalk" (really a concrete canal, but well done anyway).

Enter the Secret Service

Daniel A. Baker spoke immediately before me. He's a Special Agent from the Oklahoma City Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service and he gave a fascinating talk on identity theft. I spend most of my time trying to prevent credit card and information theft, so it was interesting to see the law enforcement perspective that takes over when prevention fails.

One statistic that hit me was that 3 or 4 out of ten Americans have been victims of identity or related theft (e.g. credit card fraud) either directly or through family members. To me, that implies that identity theft is the most prevalent crime in America.

Do we spend most of our time fighting crimes people don't commit?

Another interesting statistic came in my mail from the City of Lewisville. Homeowners with registered alarm systems now must pay $50 per year, because 99% of the 6,000 residential alarms that Lewisville police respond to are false. So, last year our police spent more time responding to about 50 break-ins (and nearly 6,000 false alarms) than to the several hundred identity fraud crimes that I'd expect in a city of 100,000. As I've blogged in the past, I've had $1500 stolen (and refunded) from credit card fraud and an attempted theft of nearly $24,000 in check fraud, yet no law enforcement agency I contact has the resources to tackle such "small" crimes.

I'll keep working on fraud prevention, but I wonder if the criminals are staying a step ahead of us with these newer electronic crimes?

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