Thursday, February 19, 2009

Your Identity Is Priceless

I suspect that you'd have to be living under a rock somewhere to not know about the very real threat of identity theft. We've all read countless stories of Nigerian scam artists sending e-mails telling us they need to get millions of dollars out of the country. They need money to bribe government officials and your bank account information so they can wire the money to you after all the bribes have been paid. These stories and countless variations upon them abound all over the Internet and other news services. We are constantly bombarded by credit card companies during prime time television assuring us they are doing everything they possibly can to protect your identity and your credit. I believe that they are doing all they can to battle this problem.

It wasn't until this morning that I had some personal contact with identity theft. There seems to be a never ending supply of teenagers at our house these days. I have great difficulty in matching names and faces. It seems as though that there are new faces at our dinner table at least once or twice a week. You wouldn't think that teenagers are at risk of identity theft. At worst, you may think they may be at risk for contracting the common cold and other childhood maladies such as mononucleosis. I'm worried more about my teenagers safety while driving then identity theft. I'm not entirely convinced that our teenagers really are at risk of identity theft as much as they can become the vehicle by which our identities may be compromised or, at the very least, taken advantage. My sort-of-kind-of stepson (let's call him Steve) has a friend (let's call him Bob) that recently had his identity compromised. It wasn't through the traditional sense of a lost or stolen credit card or some Internet hacker breaking into an online merchant website. His identity was compromised through a device so common that I never would have even suspected that it can be used for such a purpose. It was a cell phone. I know; I said the same thing: a cell phone! How could a cell phone possibly be used to steal or attack your identity? I can assure you that was the first question that went through my mind.

This is Bob's story as told to my fiancé by his father. Bob is 16 years old. What could he possibly have to compromise at that age? It wasn't so much what Bob had as it was to what he had access. Bob's story begins a few weeks back when he lost his cell phone. Apparently the cell phone fell into the hands of a very capable criminal. This capable criminal used Bob's phonebook/contact list contained within the cell phone. The criminal used the cell phone to contact Bob's Grandmother. The Grandmother was told of a terrible accident that involved Bob while he was traveling in Canada. The thief went on further to tell the Grandmother that unless she was able to electronically transfer $3,900 to the hospital in Canada, that Bob would be unable to receive desperately needed medical care. Obviously the thief appealed to the grandmother's maternal nurturing instinct to come to the aid of a loved one. Sadly, she sent the money. I am absolutely convinced that if my mother had received a similar telephone call telling her of a terrible tragedy that has befallen one of my daughters, she would also become a victim in this type of scam.

What can we learn from this story? Given the state of our economy, I fully expect that there will be a birth of new angles and methodologies to steal from anyone. These threats could and will take on any form. It could be a phone call, an e-mail, a fax or letter appealing to our sense of right and wrong to act on behalf of another or to somehow acquire a treasure or wealth that we so desperately need to insure that our lifestyle is undisturbed or uninterrupted in the wake of the recession. If only Bob's Grandmother had thought to call the parents of this child to confirm the story, there would be $3,900 still in her checking account. I plan to share this story with my family and loved ones. We'll develop a plan to check in with each other before acting on this sort of thing.

I am, as always, Father Tom.

Photo Credit: D70Focus, KB35

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