"According to your records, you don't seem to have any identity protection in place. Is that correct?"
"Er, yes, guess so."
"Is there a good reason for that?"
"Or is it just that you don't know anything about it?"
"Well, I'm aware of the issues, and the bank has tried to sell me all sorts of card protection things before, but it's not something I'm overly worried about..."
There followed a long and might-have-been-patronising-if-actually-c
Of course, they're not trying to sell me anything, no, just advising. So in the hope of shutting them up I said they could send me some information about the service they're offering, yes, please, that'd be great. Which triggered another lecture on how "well, we can't send it in the post, because it would be really stupid to send things about identity theft in the post." Huh? I try to explain. "I'm not suggesting sending the Identity Protecting PIN or whatever it is in the post -- though obviously you do send cards and PINs in the post -- I only meant that you could send some information about the service you're offering." "No, but, that's your card, and your PIN, and we have to send that in the post, because of law, but that's different. But you see obviously it would be really stupid to say we want to protect your identity and then send you something about it in the post. I don't know if you're aware but they only need your name and address."
My name and address, fact-finders, are in the Phone Book. My post comes via the Royal Mail or whatever they're called these days now that they're probably owned by Microsoft and it's Health and Safety gone mad out there. My post gets posted through the letter box. It doesn't go through some kind of secret mail escrow system, it doesn't get picked up by W.A.S.T.E and delivered to me by cycle courier at midnight when there's a new moon. If Alliance and Leicester are so fucking worried about putting my name and address on an envelope, they could start by not sending me a) the letters offering me loans, b) the letters offering me more credit, c) the letters offering me more credit card cheques, d) the letters telling me what the current rates of interest are, all of these with -- you guessed it -- my name and address, and a bloody great orange-and-blue "ALLIANCE AND LEICESTER" stamp on the front of the envelope. (I seem to remember HSBC went through a phase of sending new cards in a big envelope with no branding and the name and address in Comic Sans, so that nobody would think "ooh, new bank card, must steal"; unfortunately this had the side-effect of making me more likely to throw it away or at least leave it unopened for a month because it was clearly junk mail. I'm sure when I was a student you could only pick your new card up from the bank -- cue regular sessions of trying to explain that my branch was in Loughborough but I lived in Oxford so I'd like to collect the card from the Oxford branch, HOW HARD CAN THIS BE? -- whereas now you don't even seem to get offered that option. Presumably that would be the more secure way to do it, forcing you to turn up at the branch with your passport, but that would cost the bank money rather than gaining them money. Market forces are not about trying to make things easier for you. But I digress.)
Anyway, apparently identity theft is on the increase, and they get nearly one case a month now (so, not really that many out of the 1.72m active current accounts -- and that's just personal accounts, not businesses -- that their annual report claims they had in 2007). Also, I'm assuming that it still counts as a case of identity theft even if it's caught early and doesn't cause any major damage -- in the same way that I'm part of the INTERNET CARD FRAUD OH NOES statistics because somebody tried to defraud my card (to the tune of about 2 quid) and A&L caught it, told me, and gave me a new card. If all these cases involved real scare stories like people being thrown out of the country because someone else had claimed their identity, then surely it would be a spate by now, and would be reported more often? Not in the news, where obviously people wouldn't report things which might damage the economy, but on the web? Come on, bloggers, how many of you have been given hush money not to blog about the identity theft you've suffered? Or is it that once you've had your identity stolen, you can't get a blog any more, so you are SILENCED?
I'm not trying to trivialise the awfulness of identity theft actually happening to an individual (like all crimes, if it happens to you, arguing about the probability of it having happened to you is somewhat less interesting/relevant than the process of trying to undo the damage or get compensation) but I am fed up of the amount of scaremongering that goes on in an attempt to sell extra insurance to neurotic people. "We're not trying to scare you," said the girl on the phone, "we're just trying to advise you and give you the facts and figures." Hmmmm. I counted precisely one fact and/or figure, and it wasn't a very impressive one. It really takes quite a lot more than that to sell me insurance.
Also, unrelatedly, I am annoyed that 'activating' my debit card requires me to listen to a fifteen-year-old insurance salesgirl trying to tell me the Facts of Internet, while 'activating' my credit card merely requires me to go through an automated key-press system, which I can do without switching the music off. Also also and furthermore, I AM TRYING TO DRINK COFFEE, STOP TRYING TO SELL ME THINGS. I think that might be my new meaningless t-shirt slogan catchphrase for this week.
Still, let's have a poll:
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft?
Do you have any kind of 'identity insurance'?
How do I know you're actually who you say you are?
I don't believe you, you Cretan. Try harder to convince me:
Which of these do you have:
Furthermore, I think you should know: