Banks, phone companies identity-theft targets

San Francisco Chronicle


Bank of America ranks No. 1 among top banks in complaints of identity theft, according to a report issued Wednesday by UC Berkeley's Center for Law and Technology based on 2006 data.


It was obtained by Chris Hoofnagle, an attorney at the Berkeley center, through a Freedom of Information Act request that allowed him to identify institutions consumers complained about most.


Hoofnagle analyzed 88,500 complaints and was surprised by what he found. Telecommunications carriers were listed more often than most banks as sources of identity theft, according to the complaints, yet the FTC has no jurisdiction over them.

Major retailers - including Target, Sears, Wal-Mart, Dell Computer and Macy's - also were in the top 25. And there was a collections agency, AFNI, which Hoofnagle said shouldn't have been named.

If consumers get a call from a collections agency, he said, "they list it as the entity where the identity was stolen." When you ask them who stole their data, "they write Visa."


Hoofnagle said it is an under-reported crime because few people bother to go the FTC and fill out the report form, which he said takes about 20 minutes. Gartner estimates that only 5 percent of victims report identity theft to the FTC.

And he sees other problems in the FTC's data. The risk at Bank of America may be worse than it appears, he said, because he couldn't separate consumer accounts from corporate accounts when estimating the bank's deposits according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.