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Banks, telephone companies top identity theft study

Research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley highlights which companies are targeted most by identity thieves.

Bank of America, AT&T, and Sprint top the list of firms targeted by identity thieves, according to a new study.

This lack of information prevents more vigorous competition among institutions to protect accountholders from identity theft.
Chris Hoofnagle,
researcherBerkeley Center for Law and Technology

Conducted by the University of California's Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, the study found thousands of identity theft victims disgruntled enough to complain to the Federal Trade Commission.

The report also highlighted that consumers can't easily obtain identity theft data on financial firms they use. Some banks advertise their commitment to protecting consumer data, but the study found those same banks have high incidents of identity fraud.

The study analyzed 88,000 complaints submitted by victims to the Federal Trade Commission over a three month period in 2006. The complaint data identifies the institution where fraudulent accounts were discovered or affected the victim's existing accounts.

The report's author Chris Hoofnagle, said the research was conducted to highlight the fact that consumers, regulators and businesses have no reliable way to assess which banks and financial institutions have higher incidents of identity fraud.

"This lack of information prevents more vigorous competition among institutions to protect accountholders from identity theft," Hoofnagle said. "The data show that some institutions have a far greater incidence of identity theft than others."

The data also isn't perfect, Hoofnagle said. The FTC data doesn't distinguish between credit card and debit card fraud and consumers are only given an opportunity to report three incidents on a single complaint.

Hoofnagle said lending institutions should publicly report information about identity theft events. Information, such as the rate of identity theft; the form of identity theft attempted; whether it was a mortgage loan or credit card; and the amount of loss suffered as a result, would help consumers choose safer financial institutions.

Of more than 674,000 complaints received by the FTC in 2006, more than 246,035 were identity theft related, Hoofnagle said.

The study found that Bank of America ranked highest of all firms in the study, with an average of 1,117 incidents over a three-month period. AT&T had 763 incidents, followed by Sprint Nextel with 698. JP Morgan Chase and its Chase and Bank One divisions had 613 incidents, and Capital One had 442.

Retail giant, Macy's, cable television operator, Comcast and satellite television provider, DirectTV had the least number of incidents, according to the study. The firms still had enough incidents to be listed in the top 25, which together accounted for about half of all identity theft complaints in three months of 2006.

"Among the largest financial institutions, when the estimated events are divided by total deposits, the data show that HSBC has a higher incidence of fraud than Bank of America," according to the study. "ING Bank, with only a single event, had the lowest incidence of identity theft."

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