This week, I encountered a rare situation. As I was leaving a local restaurant, I passed by a bank. In the driveway, an older lady was sitting in her late model high-dollar land yacht. She motioned me to the driver’s window. “Is there a depository in front of the bank?” she asked. I walked over to the bank and determined that there was an operational drop box there. I then asked her if she’d like me to put something in it. She said yes, handed me a thick envelope, thanked me and drove away. As I walked over to drop it in the depository, it occurred to me that she must have come from another place and time, or that I just looked honest. I was especially concerned as this is an area where lots of panhandlers shadow nearby ATM machines. She didn’t even look back.
Also this week, the Ohio Attorney General, Mike Dewine, was featured in a newspaper article about income tax fraud, and how to prevent it. The article talked a lot about incident statistics and the means employed by criminals to access accounts. Mostly, it’s the use of Social Security numbers to identify filers. In fact, there were no recommendations on how one might avoid having your account compromised. While it seems that the government is onto these fraudulent activities, it leaves the taxpayer in a bit of a quandary. Like my encounter in front of the bank, it appears that the government is just too trusting. However, if the government issues a refund to the wrong person, it’s the proper person’s responsibility to identify and make the situation right.
We live in a world where criminals exploit what’s normal. We operate in the mode where no one would file for a refund if they weren’t entitled to it, and of course the nice stranger will make your deposit for you. Changing expectations is an important element of security, but knowing who you are dealing with is also an imperative. Imagine if you were able to walk into a bank and make a withdrawal without proving that you owned an account, or use a credit card without providing some validating information. As our technology makes access simpler and more efficient, so must our ability to manage the entire consumer context. This is a matter of balancing identity to assets, reevaluating and replacing the identification concepts designed for another era. Otherwise, institutions behind the curve are inadvertently colluding with criminals. These situations are not the fault of the consumer; they shouldn’t bear the brunt of inattention, indifference or incompetence.