Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Identity Theft Reduced by PBT

NewswiseThe cumulative losses from identity theft, now suffered by tens of millions of individuals and businesses worldwide, rose from an estimated $221 billion in 2003 to an almost unfathomable $2 trillion in 2005, according to data from the Aberdeen Group, Boston.

Clearly, it is far too easy to steal personal information these days--especially credit card numbers, which are involved in more than 67 percent of identity theft, according to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission study. It's also relatively easy to fake someone's signature or guess a password; thieves can often just look on the back of an ATM card, where some 30 percent of people actually write down their personal identification number and give a thief all that's needed to raid the account.

But what if all we had to do was present our fingers to a scanner to authenticate our identities before completing a transaction? The biometric authentication system would raise the technological bar beyond the reach of most identity thieves.

The sensors, processors, and software needed to make secure credit cards that authenticate users on the basis of their physical, or biometric, attributes are already on the market. But so far, the credit card industry hasn't seen fit to integrate even basic fingerprint sensing technology with their enormous IT systems.

If credit card issuers don't act soon, customers, many of whom are becoming increasingly comfortable with biometric technologies, might just force the issue.

In the United States, millions of people at hundreds of supermarkets have already given the thumbs-up to services offered by BioPay LLC, Herndon, Va., and Pay By Touch, San Francisco, which let shoppers pay for their groceries by pressing their fingers on a sensor mounted near the cash register--no card necessary.

Millions more have fingerprint sensors built into their cellphones to act as locks, and into their laptops to replace text-based log-ins. All of this activity translates to 29 percent annual growth for a worldwide biometrics market that's expected to reach $3.4 billion in 2007. And that market will greatly expand if and when credit card companies get serious about combating ID theft.