A good solution, but only if you don’t understand the problem

[Dave Birch] It’s all for the kiddies. There’s a terrible problem out there on the interweb: there are people who aren’t children who are pretending to be children and there are children who are pretending to be not children. Therefore, something must be done.

MySpace is now encouraging users to post their real names to their profiles. This is quite a shift – like many sites, MySpace used to refer to a ’screen name’ rather than ‘real name’.

[From Privacy Value Networks » Blog Archive » The danger of ‘real names’?]

Well, it might be considered an inconvenience that your children’s identities should be disclosed to the entire world online, but it’s for the greater good, right? And if we know who the children are online, then we can protect them, and help retailers to avoid accidentally selling knives to teenagers, and that’s a good thing too.

Child-safety activists charge that some of the age-verification firms want to help Internet companies tailor ads for children. They say these firms are substituting one exaggerated threat — the menace of online sex predators — with a far more pervasive danger from online marketers like junk food and toy companies that will rush to advertise to children if they are told revealing details about the users.

[From Ping – Online Age Verification for Children Brings Privacy Worries – NYTimes.com]

Perhaps this whole anonymity vs. absonymity argument around online identities is actually important, and perhaps we should be doing some thinking about it instead of leaving it to people (eg, Ministers) who don’t really understand the problem or the solution.

Children and identity theft

[Dave Birch] OK, so we know that overall identity theft is falling, but that doesn't mean it is vanishing and nor does it mean that it is falling for all segments of the population. A recent U.S. study about the theft of children's identities illustrates how the subject area is evolving. The issue of identity theft so far as children are concerned is an interesting one.

Rarely do parents or guardians consider the possibility that their child may have a credit history, and thus few will check to see whether their child has a credit report under their name. This can make children easy targets for identity thieves,

[From Debix – Research]

The headline results of this study are as follows:

  • The study discovered 5% of the children had one or more credit reports using their social security number
  • 3% were found to be actual victims of child identity theft, while 2% were victims of file/credit contamination.
  • Among the 5%, the children had on average $12,779 in fraudulent or wrongly assigned debt.
  • While the study found that children were more likely to find problems in their credit histories as they aged, an astonishing 12% of those with problems were age 5 and under.
  • A handful of cases stand out as especially severe: one child had seven identities listed under his SSN, with several thousand dollars in medical bills, apartment rentals, and credit accounts in collections; another child’s SSN was associated with over $325,000 in debt.
  • One in four victims in the study had bills or lines of credit in collections or foreclosure, while almost twothirds of these children had fake or wrong names listed under their SSN.
  • 42% of those children with erroneous credit reports only had credit files at one credit bureau, meaning their fraud could have gone unnoticed without checking all three bureaus.

You can see why criminals are going for this mode of attack, because using the SSNs of children must have (on average) a longer time available for abuse before anyone detects fraudulent activity. And remember, behind each of these statistics is a real person left with the mess of cleaning up identity theft.

Police say identity theft is the reason the Internal Revenue Service recently warned a seven-year-old boy from the northwestern Chicago suburb of Carpentersville that he owed back taxes on $60,000. Officers said Friday the second-grader's identity has been in use by someone else since 2001 — not long after his birth. Detectives accused 29-year-old Cirilo Centeno of Streamwood of using the boy's personal information to obtain a truck, three separate jobs, gas and electrical service for his home, a credit card, unemployment benefits and more than $60,000 in pay and services.

[From IRS tells 7-year-old boy he owes back taxes on $60,000 — chicagotribune.com]

A credit card? Unemployment benefits? I don't understand how stealing a seven year-old's identity helps you to obtain either of these, but clearly the government and the banks have some pretty lax "know your customer" procedures if a date of birth in 2001 can get you welfare and a line of credit.

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