Bank of America, HSBC Most Prone to I.D. Theft, Report Says

Wired Blog Network


In a first ever study of which companies have the most identity theft incidents, Bank of America, HSBC, and Washington Mutual were named as the companies with the most incidents per billions of dollars of deposits, according to a study released Wednesday by Berkeley Law School fellow Chris Hoofnagle.


Hoofnagle, who started as a privacy and consumer rights advocate at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says he did  the study because he wants people to be able to choose institutions based on identity theft statistics.

He used a open-government request to get more than 88,000 complaints filed by individuals to the Federal Trade Commission in January, March and September 2006.  The FTC publishes statistical data about the complaints yearly, but does not publish the companies' names.

"In order for the market to effectively address the ongoing identity theft epidemic, consumers need reliable information about incidence of the crime among institutions," Hoofnagle wrote in the study.  "If data were available on this crime, consumers could choose safer institutions, regulators could focus attention on problem actors, and businesses themselves could compete to protect consumers from this crime."

To get a rough tally of the number of incidents per customer, Hoofnagle compared the number of incidents against publicly available FDIC data on the institutions insured deposits. No similar data existed for telecoms companies, making even rough ranking per customer impossible.

Hoofnagle admits the data is rough, but hopes the study will force better data to come to light in the future. He also hopes the data could force lawmakers and regulators to mandate public disclosure of identity theft statistics from banks (.pdf).