According to Separating myth from reality in ID theft, identity theft is pretty close to a non-issue.
Tell that to the credit card folks who warn me that I should be buying their "insurance". I keep saying no, and I imagine them shaking their heads in dismay. "Poor thing, he just doesn't understand how much risk he's taking. Oh well, we'll try again next month."
Actually, given all the buzz, you'd think we'd all know at least someone who had their lives ruined by electronic theft. But the fact is, getting a credit card number isn't all that useful - if it were, we'd all worry much more about waiters and store clerks than our electronic transactions. We've heard stories that someone knows someone who knows someone who got burned, but do you know anyone personally?
Sure, I lost a credit card once. Dropped out of my wallet in a parking lot, and the person who found it had a great weekend. But it didn't cost me anything - I had reported it missing as soon as I noticed. Consumer protection laws limit your liability to very small amounts anyway, and having a piece of plastic in your hand is much different than just having the numbers.
Still, credit card fraud happens. But credit card fraud isn't identity theft. There's a big difference between a few charges on your credit card and a credit report that has been polluted by someone else's bad credit. Apparently the latter doesn't happen as often as those selling us "insurance" would like us to believe.
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