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Christmas Con Job?

Monday, Dec. 24, 2007 8:22 AM

Bright and early at 8:00 AM, I received a phone call purporting to be from my bank. It sounded genuine, with a professionally recorded voice informing me that there was a change to my account. To confirm my identity, all I had to do was enter the last four digits of my SSN.


I hung up and did what every smart consumer should - call the customer service number on your bank statement or credit card. After plowing through a slightly irritating maze of computerized options, I reached a young woman who told me two things:

1. My bank does not routinely notify customers of account changes via phone.

2. She could not find any indication or notes of changes to my account.

Was it a clever phishing ruse? Who knows.

The FBI is launching a $1 billion, 10-year project to create the world's largest computer database of people's physical characteristics, supposedly to identify and capture criminals and terrorists.

Hell, we can't even operate a no-fly list without having people who are most decidedly NOT terrorists on the list, with no remedy for those individuals. Yet we're supposed to believe that this super-database is going to do the job?

More directly, it assumes that criminals and terrorists come from a readily-identifiable subset of the population at large, which we have already sampled and stored. Thus, we'll be able to observe some random Middle Eastern chap in the mall and say, "Aha! That's Abu Musab al-Doohiqi, the noted serial bomber!"

And what are the implications in regards to identity theft? How does the database handle an instance where a criminal steals someone's identity, opens checking and/or credit accounts, racks up significant debt, and then defaults?

What are the tradeoffs for this piece of security? The FBI plans on offering a retention option, so that employers submitting employees' names for background checks can have that data held just in case they commit a crime. Which means the database will hold information on people whose only offense is applying for a job.

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