On Christmas day, I decided to check my credit card balance online for no particular reason aside from boredom (I always seem to be alone on Christmas). To my shock, I saw my balance was totally out of whack with my spending, and I soon saw why: Someone was placing all kinds of bizarre charges on my card, including a stay at a Las Vegas casino, several dating services, Hotmail-plus accounts (three of them!) and sundry other online shit. Alarmed that I might have to foot the bill for the fraudsters, I called my credit card company and told them what happened.
It’s a lot easier to tear companies down on your blog than to praise them, but I have to say Bank of America handled the mess incredibly well. Within minutes, I was talking to a security investigator and all the charges were dropped; I was told I’d have a new card in two days. I have rarely been treated so professionally and politely by customer service people.
Of course, I’d love to know how the bastards got my data to begin with, and especially how they paid a hotel bill with a card they didn’t have in their possession.
Which leads me to a good article I just read on the idiocy of banks and every other business identifying people solely based on their Social Security numbers.
Ironically, during the first few decades that Social Security cards were issued, they contained the phrase, “Not to be used for identification.” However, since no law was passed to prohibit the use of Social Security numbers as identification, institutions, including hospitals and banks, began using the nine-digit number to identify their customers.
“Social Security numbers are used way too much for unnecessary reasons like identification on Medicare cards, student ID cards or driver licenses,” says Hillebrand [an attorney for the publisher of COnsumer Reports].
She says that unless you are applying for a loan where they need to check your credit history or a potential employer needs your Social Security number for tax purposes, there is no reason that businesses could not use a different identifier.
“Both government and businesses need to distinguish between convenience and importance. There needs to be a standard of disconnecting ID function from credit function,” says Hillebrand.
If businesses are asking their customers to guard their personal identification to help reduce ID theft and fraud, but the businesses continue to use the Social Security numbers as their main source of identification, the businesses are doing exactly what they preach against by allowing access to these special numbers.
“It’s a bomb in the town square; it needs to be defused,” says Mark Durham of Identity Theft 911.
Another example of a glaring problem that could be easily solved if those in control would just put their minds to it. As usual, it will take an earth-shattering crisis affecting millions before anything changes.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.