Not My Brother’s Keeper, Or Citibank’s Either
It’s not just fever-induced paranoia making me say that. Six years ago I became an identity-theft statistic when someone applied for and received a VISA gold card in my name. I learned of this months later, and though I didn’t have to pay anything toward the maxed-out card it took dozens of hours to straighten out the mess. Filing police reports, calling the company, sitting on hold, getting disconnected and calling back to sit on hold again — considering what my hourly wage averaged out to back then, I spent nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of my time.
I bring this up because the Washington Post has a consumer-advocacy article warning against another danger from identity theft: many companies sell protection against it, and damned if a lot of those companies aren’t fraudulent themselves.
But here’s something about identity-fraud protection I’ve never understood: why should it even be necessary? I’ve heard people argue that you should protect yourself from identity theft for the same reason you put locks on the door of your house and car. That analogy doesn’t work, though: I use locks to protect my personal property. In the case of the VISA gold card in my name, from whom did the thief actually steal? The credit-card company.
So how did it become my responsibility to protect the assets of a company I’ve never done a lick of business with? If a multibillion-dollar company is fool enough to loan money to a liar pretending to be me, why should this be my problem?
Bear in mind: when I say “a liar pretending to be me” I’m not talking about a talented actor and master of disguise who dresses as a short, pale redhead and mimics my voice and mannerisms so well even my One True Love would be fooled. No — I’m talking about a guy who sifts through my garbage and pulls out a pre-approved credit-card offer I never asked for in the first place, or breaks into a database somewhere and racks up huge debts with my social security number.
When I suffered from identity theft I merely lost a couple weeks of free time. But some people I’m too lazy to Google now (be nice to me; I’m sick) have had it far worse: turned down for mortgages or even denied jobs because of bad debts they never incurred.
Why are the credit-card companies not held liable for damages in such cases? I suspect it’s because wealthy corporations have far too much influence in the halls of government, but I don’t think libertarians are allowed to say such things without being accused of being anti-free market. So I’ll blame my inability to answer this question on my powerful NyQuil buzz. Do any of you healthy people have insights to share?