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ID cards against ID theft

Week 50, 2007

ID theft actually encompasses several different issues. To give a broad definition, identity theft is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personal identifying information such as name, address, date and place of birth, national identification numbers, social security numbers, driver's license numbers, …  and uses them for his own personal gain. ID theft may start with a stolen wallet, pilfered mail, accidentally thrown away documents, etc…. Or it can start when the government or any other public body looses data about people, as it happened in the UK.

The most common example of ID theft is the theft of a credit card number, sometimes with the PIN or the CVV2 (Card Verification Code). In this case, the thieve can pose as the legitimate owner, make purchases, etc…. In most cases, this will be painless for the legitimate owner. He just has to report to the issuing bank, which will reimburse the unduly debited amount, and issue a new card to its customer.

There is a lot more concern about other forms of ID theft, such as financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft, and identity fraud. For instance, a fraudster may obtain a credit in place of the legitimate person. And then, it is only when collection agencies try to recover the credit, that the victim will realize chat happened. The victim may have to demonstrate, he or she is not actually responsible for this credit. In many cases, the victim's credit report, so important to Americans, will keep track of the credit repayment issue.

Criminal ID theft is even worse. What if someone pretending to be you commits a crime?

For a government building a policy against ID theft may not always be an easy task, as ID data is considered more and more as a means of income for ID thieves and fraudsters of al kinds. In the UK, The Times found more than 100 websites trafficking British bank details, and especially a fraudster even offering to sell 30,000 British credit card numbers for less than GBP 1 (EUR 1.40) each. The loss of the disks containing personal details of 25 million people is even worse, as there are more details about each person.

What can we propose? ID cards sound like a solution to most of the issue. These ID cards are to be secure documents in themselves, they also need to be issued in a secure manner. The corresponding ID data should be stored in a secure manner ensuring no one is able to access it unduly. To secure most situations, these ID cards should contain some biometric features such as fingerprints or some other biometric data. And to secure online transactions, they should allow digital signatures. All this already exists in some countries: Belgium, Estonia, Portugal, etc… At the same time public opinions in countries like the USA or the UK are still not convinced with ID card projects.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief editor
Smart Insights