The following is an article I wrote four years ago. Sadly, everything I wrote then remains true today. We still see many examples of legislative imbecility, as we saw in Maine today. It is an old article but still qualifies as "current affairs."
It seems that every week we hear of one more situation in which some politician or bureaucrat is trying to restrict access to public domain vital records. Everybody is trying to lock out everyone, including genealogists. Our right to access to public domain birth, marriage, and death information is being threatened constantly under the guise of "preventing identity theft."
(That's as strong a word as I will use in this family-oriented publication.)
I am sure that the politicians love the limelight back home when they can brag that they have taken action to "prevent identity theft." Heck, nobody is in favor of identity theft, right? Therefore, just proclaiming to have taken some token action under the smoke screen of "preventing identity theft" is sure to win a few more votes in the next election.
"Facts? What facts? Don't bother me with facts, I've got a re-election campaign to win."
Well, now a new study has provided genealogists with some hard facts. These facts should serve as pinpricks to any inflated claims of preventing something that never existed.
A new survey of 4,000 consumers, about 500 of whom were identity theft victims, was recently conducted by Javelin Research and the Better Business Bureau for CheckFree, Visa, and Wells Fargo Bank. This study is based on cold, hard facts, not the rhetoric or conjecture of someone who makes pronouncements not grounded in reality.
According to the people who were victims of identity theft, here are the eight most common sources:
- Lost or stolen wallet: 29%
- Fraud that occurs during an in-store or telephone transaction: 12.9%
- Corrupt employees: 9%
- Stolen mail: 8%
- Spyware on the computer: 5%
- Sifting through garbage: 2.6%
- Computer viruses: 2.2%
- "Phishing" through fraudulent e-mail: 1.7%
Take a close look at the above. Please note the rating for "obtained a record from the vital records department." Do you see it? I don't.
The full report is quite lengthy. Here are a few other random facts extracted from the Better Business Bureau's announcement:
- Among cases where the perpetrator's identity is known, half of all identity fraud is committed by a friend, family member, relative, neighbor or in-home employee - someone known by the victim.
- A wide variety of metrics confirm that identity fraud problems are NOT worsening. In fact, the total number of victims is declining. The number of identity fraud victims dropped from 10.1 million in 2003 to 9.3 million in 2004.
- The median value of identity fraud crimes remained unchanged at $750; however most identity fraud victims incurred no out-of-pocket costs.
You can read the full report on the Better Business Bureau's web site.
The next time someone claims that access to public records needs to be restricted in order to "reduce identity theft," let's ask an embarrassing question: "Show me some proof." Then, in the awkward silence that follows, let's ask that person to read the facts as proven by the Javelin Strategy & Research report.
Here's a bit of advice to politicians and bureaucrats: please focus on real issues where there is a demonstrated need. Otherwise, someone may just deflate your balloon.
My thanks to Peter Parkhurst for alerting me to the results of this new study.