Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Genealogy, Identity Theft and the Electronic Chip Credit Card

I think that the preoccupation of the American public with identity theft is finally on the decline. But I still talk to genealogists who are inordinately preoccupied with such a concern and even fear that somehow their identity will be compromised by putting their genealogy online.

In making this observation, I remember years ago, when I was actively practicing law, we went through a huge wave of black mold cases. For about five or so years I had a constant stream of potential clients claiming damages from some sort of mold infection on their real property. Those claims were based on a huge jury verdict awarded in a mold case in Texas or some other state. Finally, the insurance companies began excluding coverage for mold related claims in all their policy renewals. Almost immediately, the mold claims dried up. In fact, in the last ten years or so of my practice I do not remember ever reviewing a claim for mold damage.

From my perspective, faddish legal issues come and go. Identity theft fears constitute one of those legal fads that is now definitely declining. As I have pointed out quite a few times in past posts, there has been no uniformly accepted definition of identity theft. Over the past few years, legislatures have grappled with the difficulty in defining what is essentially a conglomeration of different legal issues referred to under the umbrella term of "identity theft." The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics defines identity theft as follows:
For the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the definition of identity theft includes three general types of incidents:
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account
  • misuse of personal information for a fraudulent purpose.
As the Justice Department points out, statistics on identity theft are based on surveys and complaints not criminal prosecutions or convictions. The rise in statistics is from reports not criminal complaints. What is usually not emphasized by the reports is that the vast majority of the so-called identity theft complaints relate to credit card issues. The Victims of Identity Theft, 2014 report clearly states this as follows:
  • About 7% of persons age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2014, similar to findings in 2012. „
  • The majority of identity theft victims (86%) experienced the fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit card or bank account information.
  • The number of elderly victims of identity theft increased from 2.1 million in 2012 to 2.6 million in 2014.
  • About 14% of identity theft victims experienced out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more. Of these victims, about half suffered losses of less than $100.
  • „ Half of identity theft victims who were able to resolve any associated problems did so in a day or less.
It is interesting that in the first statement the statistics show that there is no overall increase in reported instance of identity theft from 2013 through 2014. These reports do not reflect the government mandated use of computer chips in credit cards. By the way, the U.S. is the last developed country in the world to switch to what is known as EMV chips. Here are some of the statistics on the decline of credit card fraud in countries that are using the chips.
Other countries have seen a benefit in adopting EMV technology. In the U.K., counterfeit fraud has fallen 56 percent since the country rolled out EMV cards in 2005, the Aite Group report says. In Australia, counterfeit fraud is down 38 percent. In Canada, the figure is 49 percent.
Where does genealogy fit into all this? The simple answer is that it doesn't. If someone tells you it does, then they are most likely selling something. First of all, no financial data, including social security numbers should be put online in genealogy files. Stupidly, banks still use simple relationship questions as security questions for bank accounts such as asking for your mother's maiden name. 

Now, what is the problem? The main issues include putting unnecessary personal information about living people online and improperly managing credit cards. Your perception of the problem will also change dramatically if you have a perspective about what is already available online about nearly everyone, alive or dead. But to be concerned about putting historic, family history information online due to fears of identity theft is really not an issue.

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