Sunday, February 19, 2006

Your good name: Priceless. Insuring it: $25.

Apparently identity theft is the new fad fear. An assortment of companies are offering ID theft insurance policies, generally charging $25 to $50 a year for policies that cover the cost of long-distance phone calls, lost wages and legal fees associated with untangling a stolen identity case. This week, the AP and the Washington Post have chimed in on the trend.

I've never been a victim of formal identity theft, but I've twice had my bank account/debit card hacked, once in a particularly odd (but, apparently, increasingly common) way -- someone was able to create a copy of my ATM card, complete with its PIN number, and use it to withdraw money. Sometimes this is done with phony ATMs and modified front-ends, but it can also happen at totally normal-looking machines that are running stealth skimming software.

Recovering my missing cash was a pain, involving hours on the phone and time off work to trek over to various police stations to fill out reports, but I don't see that having insurance would have been terribly helpful. Claiming reimbursement for the (relatively small) financial costs of the incident would have been just one more bureaucratic chore to slog through, at a time when I had quite enough red tape to deal with. For a full-fledged ID fraud case, the horror stories you hear about people mistakenly arrested because crooks with arrest warrants are using their names, it might come in handy, but those cases still remain lightening-strike rare.