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Redefining the problem

This morning, the Boston Globe takes a bold stance on a controversial issue, and I find myself agreeing with them that identity theft is bad. But they don't take it quite as far as they should.

They cite the theft of 45 million debit and credit card numbers from TJX -- and the inept way the incident was managed by TJX -- as proof that we need tougher laws on the books. But that's a prime example of one of the Globe's favorite tactics -- conflating two issues to either push their own agenda, or suppress reality.

Usually, it's illegal aliens. There they blur illegal aliens and resident aliens into "immigrants," and push hard for issues that benefit the former but almost never apply to the latter. This time, though, they're blending credit card fraud with identity theft.

I'm no criminal mastermind, or even a criminologist, but I strongly suspect that the people behind the TJX theft weren't interested in setting up bogus identities. They were far more interested in stealing cash and merchandise using those numbers.

The real market for identity theft, though, is those who are dearest to the Globe's hearts -- the criminals "out to get a fresh start" and the illegal aliens "just trying to do the jobs Americans won't do." They're the ones who need the fresh identities, and they need them long-term. That's why I don't think the TJX case was motivated by the prospect of identity theft. It was so big, so brazen, made such a big splash, that the value of that data had a fairly short shelf life. It was primarily good for a quick score, not a long-term scheme.

Of course, the Globe follows true to its traditional form. Do they call for stricter penalties for those who commit the thefts? Nah. Instead, they want to ratchet up the fines for companies that don't properly secure their information, and stick a new burden on the credit reporting agencies. The appropriateness of those measures is certainly debatable, but I think it's incredibly enlightening that the Globe doesn't even toss off a sentence towards stiffer sentences for the thieves themselves. It's like responding to a rash of burglaries by mandating everyone buy stronger locks and mandating that alarm companies sell their systems at cost.

So, why the big fuss over identity theft here? Because, I suspect, they want to deflect attention from the actual problem. They support the "right" of illegal aliens to work, and to do so they need to provide Social Security numbers. Some of those are made up, some are stolen -- but a good chunk of them are valid numbers, belonging to real people, and their identities are being stolen every day by these illegal aliens, causing future headaches and complications when the victims try to claim their Social Security benefits, only to find out that they held a bunch of jobs they never knew about.

And if that illegal alien files for Social Security first under that number (which has happened), then it's even worse for the poor schmuck.

So the Boston Globe finds that it has to somehow tolerate identity theft, as long as it's the "good" kind. But there's a huge public upswell to crack down on it. What to do?

Why, deflect the matter. Confuse identity theft with credit card fraud, then channel all that anger against big business. Meanwhile, the thieves continue their efforts unhindered by tougher laws, and the illegal aliens can continue pulling their little cons.

It's a fairly decent scheme. I just wish the Globe wasn't so transparent.


Comments (9)

Do they call for stricte... (Below threshold)
wolfwalker:

Do they call for stricter penalties for those who commit the thefts? Nah. Instead, they want to ratchet up the fines for companies that don't properly secure their information, and stick a new burden on the credit reporting agencies. The appropriateness of those measures is certainly debatable, but I think it's incredibly enlightening that the Globe doesn't even toss off a sentence towards stiffer sentences for the thieves themselves.

It was almost certainly unintentional, but in this particular case the Glob's editorialists got it right. Mandating stiffer sentences for the data thieves will certainly be useless. Data thefts such as the TJX job are usually pulled by major criminal organizations based in other countries -- countries where they are the government, and so prosecution is effectively impossible. Meanwhile, the companies really are committing a crime against their customers by being so unbelievably lax in their security. Allowing credit card data to be stored on Internet-accessible computers is stupid beyond belief. Credit card authorizations are small transactions and could easily be done over a separate, secure network.

Then there's the separate issue that mandating stiff penalties for these theft rings could easily catch people who are genuinely innocent. One of the most common job scams on the Net today is "money mule" money-laundering operations, which these overseas criminal rings set up as a way of getting their ill-gotten gains out of the US. I've gotten some of those scam ads. They are very, very convincing. A person who took one of those jobs could easily believe it was legit, until the FBI knocked on their door. You're going to mandate hard jail time for some poor schmuck who was just trying to make ends meet, and didn't even know he was breaking the law?

As for credit agencies, I consider their very existence to be a violation of my right to privacy. Their databases should not be available online, and they should not release any data to anyone, ever, under any circumstances, without the express written permission of the person whose data it is.

Somebody somehow got my cre... (Below threshold)
George:

Somebody somehow got my credit card information and used it to create an ebay account. Of course, ebay won't give me any information about who did it. Once again, criminals get more protections than the victims.

At least, ebay shut down the account.

The penalties for stealing ... (Below threshold)
Jardinero1:

The penalties for stealing and using someone's personal information are already quite stiff. In Texas, where I live, each occurance is considered a felony. When my identity was stolen last year the perps took out three credit cards in my name. Each card was an individual felony. Did they ever catch the perp? No. Will they? Fat chance. Have the agencies responsible for allowing my personal info to be released apologized or attempted to help me? No.

Having your identity stolen is like having someone take the keys to your house and then not being allowed to chnage the locks. I fault the perps for stealing my identity but I also fault, equally, the credit bureaus and whoever allowed my personal information to be stolen. I think they should pay a penalty as well. The credit bureaus and other entities who have my personal info have a fiduciary responsibility as serious as the one my bank has with my money. No one would tolerate their banker, through carelessness or fecklessness or indifference allowing someone to walk out with your money. There should be zero tolerance for the release of peoples personal info. So yeah, I think the credit bureaus and other holders of your personal info should either have to undergo stricter scrutiny/oversight and/or should be held financially liable for allowing a person's info to be released.

Who reads the Boston Globe ... (Below threshold)
BillyBob:

Who reads the Boston Globe besides John F'ing Kerry and Teddy "The Schwimmer" Kennedy (D) Chivas?

Newspapers today have given up on any perception of objectivity these days and most know that they slant heavily to leftist socialist side.

I don't read them, but do enjoy all the online blogs that point out the inaccuracies and blatant misrepresentations.


A point, if I may:... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

A point, if I may:

TJ Maxx had this information given to them on a voluntary basis, through credit card sign-up, if I'm not mistaken. If they are too lax in security, people won't (well, shouldn't at least) give them any more info. There is no law needed to correct this particular problem.

As to other institutions that collect info involuntarily, such as credit companies or those who buy info on the market, their security should be regulated in particularly daconian fashion. If I don't have a say in whether they get or keep my personal info, they damn well better not lose it.

You really have to be caref... (Below threshold)
Jo:

You really have to be careful with this ebay stuff. I've gotten e-mail after e-mail from something that looks like an official ebay e-mail that asks for information and it's all fraud.
Beware.

I strongly disagree with wi... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

I strongly disagree with with credit reporting agencies aggregating my information and making money off it without my knowledge or permission.

I was lucky enough one time to have a credit card company call me, offer a new card that I accepted. Then they gentleman asked me if I wanted to transfer my balances to the new card. I said I don't have any balances worth transferring because I pay in full at the end of the month. Then he proceeded to mention an $8000.00 balance which I knew wasn't mine. He was nice enough to give me the name of the credit reporting companies.

It explained why an apartment I wanted to join wanted my life story and acted like I was lucky to be accepted.

When I got my credit report is was a freaking novel. At that point my sum total credit history was 2 current credit cards, one old one, and a car loan.

It claimed I had about $50,000 in credit card debt and a $80,000 mortgage, neither of which was mine. It had two different middles names for me, two social security numbers, two employers and two addresses. I was also supposedly married (which I wasn't).

When I called the company, they put me in touch with the "department of mixed credit histories". They have a specific department just for that. You see I lived on the same street as some guy with the same first & last name about a year apart.

Fortunately it was fixed. But only because I discovered it from a fluke. If I had tried to get a car or a house in that time frame, I'd have been royally screwed. The credit reporting agency acted slightly put out to fix it. I doubt they would have sweated if I had been screwed and I would have had not recourse to hold them accountable.

So no, I don't have any sympathy for credit reporting agencies.

About 10 years ago one of m... (Below threshold)
tyree:

About 10 years ago one of my father's employees tried to retire. She applied for her Social Security benefits and they told her that she had died. Someone drew money out of her account for years while she was still paying into it and submitted a fake death certificate the month she reached retirement age. She had to postpone retirement for two years while they fixed the problem. We never found out if they caught the person who drained the account.

You're gonna feel a lot bet... (Below threshold)
kim:

You're gonna feel a lot better about it if you just look upon it as identity sharing.
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