Is more pro-active identity verification a way to reduce identity theft? I pose that question on Election Day in my state of Virginia, and in many states and cities across the country, as voters are going to the polls to decide gubernatorial, special Congressional, mayoral and other state and local elections.
Much has been written about new election laws that require voters to more positively identify themselves at the polling place before they are allowed to vote. Without going into the merits of these laws, I am left to wonder that in some ways at least the theory behind them could point a way to lessening identity theft.
In Texas for instance, under new laws, a prospective voter needs to prove their identity not only with a government issued picture ID, but if, for instance, a woman has married and taken her husband's name but she is listed on the election rolls under her maiden name, she must produce a original copy of her marriage license to get her named changed and be eligible to vote.
Again, without going into the merits or the politics of such new restrictions, I am struck with the basic theory of assuring you are who you say you are, to be allowed to vote. What if that general theory was to be carried over into retail commerce and health care? How much could ID theft be reduced?
In some ways this mandate of positive identification has already started in the health care field. In many cases - at doctors' offices and at hospitals and clinics - a patient is require to show a government issued photo ID, usually a drivers license, as well as current insurance cards before being seen or admitted for treatment. Medicare, for instance, now requires doctors and health care facilities to submit copies of this proof along with their bills in order to be compensated.
The basic idea behind any retail sale - whether in a brick and mortar store or online – is to make the transaction as easy as possible for the consumer. That's understandable. But in making it easier, doesn't it open up the transaction possibly to fraud and identity theft?
Let me give you an example. I have bought something in a major retail store and at the cash register I said I did not have the store's credit card with me. Upon giving my name and address the account was located and the charge made. I was never asked for some proof I was who I said I was.
Likewise, in the online world, or using a telephone ordering center, in many cases if you know an account number you can complete a transaction. In some cases, perhaps now in most cases, online you need to sign in to an account before you can order. But if the sign-on and password have been stolen, there is no further proof required.
My point here is that the world of consumer commerce - as is already happening in the health care world - needs to find better ways of determining the identities of customers. Obviously it can't be onerous, because that would discourage buyers. But it should be skilled enough to discourage identity thieves.