James Cook left on a business trip to Florida, and his wife Paula went to Oklahoma to care for her sick mother. When the two returned to Frisco, Texas, several days later, their keys didn’t work. The locks on the house had been changed.
They spent their first night back sleeping in a walk-in closet, with a steel pipe ready to cold-cock any intruders. The next day, they met the man who thought he owned their house, because he had put a US$12,000 down payment to someone named Carlos Ramirez. The Cooks went to the Denton County Courthouse and checked their title. Someone had forged Paula Cook’s maiden name, Paula Smart, and transferred the deed to Carlos Ramirez. Paula’s identity was not only stolen, but the thief also stole her house. Even the police said they’ve never seen a case like this one, but suspect the criminal was able to steal the identity and the house with just Mrs. Cook’s Social Security number, driver’s license number and a copy of her signature.
Via Bruce Schneier who points out that the National ID card (supported by our good Senators Feingold & Kohl) won’t solve this problem:
This is a perfect example of the sort of fraud issue that a national ID card won’t solve. The problem is not that identity credentials are too easy to forge. The problem is that the criminal needed nothing more than “Mrs. Cook’s Social Security number, driver’s license number and a copy of her signature.” And the solution isn’t a harder-to-forge card; the solution is to make the procedure for transferring real-estate ownership more onerous. If the Denton County Courthouse had better transaction authentication procedures, the particulars of identity authentication — a national ID, a state driver’s license, biometrics, or whatever — wouldn’t matter.
If we are ever going to solve identity theft, we need to think about it properly. The problem isn’t misused identity information; the problem is fraudulent transactions.