Identity theft keeps expanding

By Herb Weisbaum
3/21/2007 – By Herb Weisbaum Watch the story We all know that identity theft is a serious problem. In fact, it’s the number one consumer crime in the country.

Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission told Congress that it is now getting 15,000-20,000 contacts each week from people who want to know how to recover from identity theft, or how to avoid becoming a victim in the first place.

The Federal Trade Commission says the problem needs to be attacked in two ways. First, we need to make it harder for the bad guys to get sensitive data that can be used to commit identity theft.

That means businesses and government agencies need to do a better job of safeguarding the information they collected and store about all of us.

Second, we need to come up with better ways to authenticate people — that is, identify who you are in ways that cannot be stolen and used by the ID thief.

The FTC pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey that found the growing fear of identity theft is having an impact on what people are doing online.

Thirty percent of those polled said they were limiting their online purchases. 24 percent were cutting back on their online banking.

“While you need to be concerned, it can for the most part be entirely safe,” said Narasu Rebbapragada, Senior Associate Editor at PC World Magazine.

Rebbapragada says if you’re going to bank online, you need to be careful. Only use a trusted computer — basically that means YOUR machine. And your computer must have up-to-date security software.

Some banks and financial institutions are taking steps to make it more difficult for others to pretend to be you. Some use on screen pictures or ask you personal questions — something an ID thief supposedly wouldn’t know or can’t get very easily, and something other than a password.

It’s a step in the right direction, but no security program is fool-proof…especially when there’s big money up for grabs.

The Internet makes it easier to snag account numbers and passwords. And easier to sell or share this information with other bad guy.

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