Out of Focus

Fire burns a structure. In the aftermath, investigators comb the scene in order to find the cause of the fire. Discovering this information is important. It is important in understanding not only how the fire started, but compiled data can help prevent future fires. If arson, charges can be filed with evidence gathered during the investigation.

A home is burglarized. An investigation is conducted in order to determine how the burglar gained entry into the premises. Information learned in this process can prevent future burglaries. This process can also lead to identifying the criminal and charges can be pressed.

When identity theft occurs, if following the pattern above – the process would look like this:

Your identity is compromised. An investigation is conducted in order to determine where the information was stolen. Investigation includes learning where the information was used in order to gain goods and/or services. Evidence can lead to charges against the person/s who stole the information, the person/s that used the information to acquire fraudulent goods or services, and the entity that did not have proper safeguards in place can also be held accountable.

However, it does not work like that. Instead it looks like this:

Your identity is compromised. If you are lucky (...really lucky), an investigation is conducted in order to determine who stole the information. (This will more likely only occur if the theft is in your same jurisdiction). Evidence may lead to charges against the criminal – at least the one that can be identified in using your personal information. And, not much, if any investigation includes holding the entities accountable where your information was compromised. And, while you are struggling to address these issues you are at the mercy of the same entities who helped make you a victim of identity theft.

There are many gaps with the way identity theft is investigated today. Too often identity theft is addressed on generalities. No real hard data. Because investigation of the cause of identity theft hardly occurs, addressing the root of identity theft is not happening. 

Instead the focus is on "prevention" – and overwhelmingly on the shoulders of the consumer. Monitor data. Ask questions when asked about providing sensitive data. Do not click on links. Shred important documents. Do not post personal information. While all are smart practices, not one truly prevents identity theft. 

The focus of identity theft needs to undergo a seismic shift to how sensitive data – personal information – is captured, tracked, and scrutinized. And, who bears responsibility when that trust is breached. Without knowing this information, identity theft will continue to wreak havoc.