Summary: In Chapter 12 Abagnale cites several examples of the failings of both companies and the government in preventing identity theft. He discusses that in certain instances companies have made using credit cards too difficult, in an attempt to curtail fraud, and put the onus back on the consumer vs. taking accountability for security. Specifically, he cites the absurdity of having to tell a credit card company about a vacation in advance, a retail vendor asking about unrelated purchases at a different location or that a bank failed to guarantee $90K to a small business because it believed the security failure was on the business’ side, and not the bank, even though the bank failed to verify that it was wiring large sums to an unrelated party.
Abagnale postulates that a company should safeguard a consumer’s information if it wishes to do business with that individual. He poses the question “What are (companies and government) doing to protect the identity of our customers and employees?” For example with the use of available software, bank security can improve. And, through better screening of employees, companies can hire fewer individuals that are predisposed to criminal activity.
Abagnale encourages readers to write your congressperson to ensure legislators toughen laws and to pass legislation which addresses prevention and resolution of identity theft.
Discussion Question: Do you believe that individual businesses should bear the expense of cyber security? Or that private, commercial industry should start providing optional security services to consumers at a fee? Or that the government should guarantee security? Feel free to cite considerations such as prices, or alternatively how government would pay for the additional expenses if it takes responsibility.
(Fun side note: I recently learned that my mother-in-law’s cousin, Tim, was a friend of Frank Abagnale when they were teenagers. I don’t know if these stories are 100% accurate, especially since they are nearly fifty years old, and told second-hand, but interesting and illustrative nonetheless. According to Tim, one day he and Frank walked in to an exclusive country club in Westchester County. Frank said he wanted to have lunch, to which Tim replied, “no way they’ll let us eat in here.” Frank stared at the wall where the country club executives were listed, and then walked into the dining room. Frank then stated to the maître-de, that he was the son of the country club VP (whose name he easily cited from the wall), that his father would be meeting them later, and that his father told him that he and his friend should start without him. The host then immediately sat them down, after which Frank and Tim enjoyed a great country club lunch. No one gave it a second thought as they left without paying.
Another time, Frank pulled up to the auto-repair shop, at which Tim worked, in a brand new car. Tim asked him where he got the car, and Frank said he got a great deal from a friend. Frank and Tim drove around in the car all summer, and then Frank parked the car outside the auto-repair shop and left it there for a while. One day the police showed up and questioned Tim about the car. He didn’t identify that it was Frank’s, and the police suspected Tim. Tim learned that this same car had been stolen earlier in the summer from the aforementioned country club. According to the police, the thief handed the valet a claim check, thanked him when the car pulled up, and drove away with no questions asked.
Moral of the story, crimes takes place in plain sight, with no questions asked, and escalates in intensity quickly when there are no clear controls.)
In chapter 13 of the book, Abagnale reviews his thesis that identify theft is an ever-increasing growth industry. With the advent of new technology and tendency of the United States to be more reactionary than proactive, he foresees identity theft to be only in its infant stages, and that problems will get much worse before they can get better. Luckily, he reminds us all that we don’t have to wait for the government or banks to act on our behalf, and we can take steps to protect ourselves before we endure the pains of a damaged credit report or a failed background check. He admonishes those who say that they aren’t worried about it because it hasn’t happened to them, and points out that those who have had it happen to them never want it to happen again. Through vigilance over who, how, and where we communicate our information and voicing our concerns to those who represent us in the government, the fertile ground of identity theft can dry up and shift into a state of decline. Abagnale doesn’t seem hopeful this will happen, but he readily admits that it could. Until that day comes, we will have to shoulder the burden and responsibility for our own informational security.
Discussion question: In this chapter, Abagnale advocates for lobbying the government to change how they approach identity theft. If you were lobbying someone in the government, which part of the government would you lobby, and which argument(s) from the book would you use? Why?