Identity theft is one of the worst problems on the world wide web today, and it hits banks and customers of banks particularly hard. Bank of America, for example, has experienced dozens of phishing efforts in the Bank of America name, aimed at Bank of America customers, mimicking the Bank of America website, in the past few months alone. Phishing, hacking, and leaking all lead to identity theft, and some of the worst problems relate to either the real or replicated websites of banks and other financial institutions.
It’s a huge problem, with a huge price tag. Recently it was estimated, for example, that in the State of Oregon alone, identity theft costs Oregonians $5billion annually. Annually!
So banks and other financial institutions are starting to offer identity theft protection. But they are charging their customers $9.95 to $15.00 per month for this protection. For protection from leaks and hacks which are often – not always, but often – caused by the lax security and procedures of the institutions themselves. Or for their failure to provide a way for customers to be certain that they are at their bank’s website, and not that of a phishy knock-off.
They are charging protection money for that identity theft protection.
Bank of America spokesman Richard Brown said of the Bank of America identity theft protection protection charge, “It’s a value-added service, and consumers have the freedom to decide if they want to pay for it.”
Others, however, don’t quite see it that way. Rather than a value-added service, they see it as the banking industry needing to clean up their act to fix a serious problem for which they are at least in part responsible, but wanting their customers – the very ones who need protection from those problems – to subsidize their correction.
Says Chris Hoofnagle, with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the financial services industry “is expert at creating products out of problems they created.”