Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A harrowing tale recalling "Vertigo": beware of debit cards

The January 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest has a couple of the very worst incidents that motive this blog. On p 94 there appears the article, “I hunted down the woman who stole my life,” by Anita Bartholomew, telling the story Karen Lodrick, who, in San Francisco, tracked down identity thief Marla Nelson, with at least sixty prior arrests, in a chase worthy of Hitchcock’s 1958 classic movie “Vertigo.” The link is here.

What’s important here is how it could have happened. It appears that Karen’s ATM debit card was stolen from an apartment mailbox. Without that theft, none of this would have have happened to her. So one moral of the story is that it is safer to pick up debit cards in person at the bank. (Credit cards are another matter, as money doesn’t come out of your bank account until you pay it.) Once Marla has gotten her social security number, she was able to get fake DMV driver’s license’s with Marla’s picture. DMV’s typically require a piece of mail from home (like a utility bill) to prove residence (that’s true in Virginia; I’m not sure about California), although this may be becoming harder to do as more people do all their billing electronically. In any case, it doesn’t seem that the DMV has any way of checking an “original address” (as off a database) or of notifying the subject separately that a driver’s license or state ID has been issued in their name.

Although Karen apparently got her money reinstated, she still has an enormous mess to clean up, and the inability of the bank to process her claim or even keep track of its own records (affidavits and video surveillance tapes) is unbelievable.

Karen has a very detailed blog about this incident here. Reader’s Digest 's own tips are here:

This issue of RD has a correlated article on p 124 by Teri Cettina, “Avoid These Debit Card Traps.” The article discusses the risk that bogus debit cards can be manufactured and bank accounts drained or raided when businesses keep illegal swipes. Americans pay $18 billion in overdraft fees a year. The link is here.

Again, it seems outrageous that we should have to shred paper documents because banks are careless and don’t seem to have any real consequences for their negligence. But there really needs to be a system to help them identify clients positively. So, one says, that infringes on civil liberties, and brings up all the questions that he have addressed with the Patriot Act, ID cards, even wiretapping. But what is going on is absurd.

I have documented my own proposal in detail om Sept. 25, 2006 on this blog.

Lifelock continues to supply paid advertisements, as on p 14 of the Dec 31 DC Examiner. Lifelock claims in TV ads that it provides the ability for the customer to be notified if someone takes out credit in his/her name. It also claims it reduces the volume of junk mail and pre-approved credit offers. It plays up the idea of "your good name" as something commensurate with "reputation defense." After all, a FICO score is a measure of "financial repuation."

Update: Jan. 14, 2007

Washington Post staff writer Nancy Trejos tells her own tale of having her debit card compromised in the story "Identity Theft Gets Personal: When a Debit Card Number Is Stolen, America's New Crime Wave Hits Home", on p F1, Business, of the Post Sunday Jan. 13, 2008, link here. The compromise apparently occurred with an unsolicited telemarketing phone call. A retailer took the precaution of calling her about an $800 purchase, when the thief did not have the card in his/her possession.

There will be an online discussion on The Washington Post Tuesday Jan 15 at 1 PM, link here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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