If I hadn't written all but these last three paragraphs before laying eyes on Bergstein's, I'd accuse myself of stealing his identity and plagiarizing him.
Addendum, May 31: Pat Regnier at Moneymagazine cut through the identity-theft hype for his magazine back in September, noting that biggest threat to your financial identity is not necessarily a stranger but most often somebody who knows you and knows your habits. He adds:
Financial companies, including big names like American Express, Chase, Citi, Discover and MBNA, see opportunities in the hysteria over this, and they're hawking services designed to protect you from the threat. A few of them might be useful for some folks. But before you shell out one thin dime, take a deep breath and try to understand what the real risks are—and what's just lurid hype. …
When it comes to ID theft, it's hard to escape the feeling that you're getting pinched coming and going. As we detailed in our July issue, one reason we're all so vulnerable now is that the data and financial services industries have fought laws that would give you more control over how your data are used. And the banks and the credit bureaus could do a lot more to spot and thwart imposters. Certainly it's a bit, shall we say, poignant that many of the card issuers stuffing your mailbox with the junk mail you're supposed to shred are also marketing ID protection.
The data industry has lobbied to defeat state laws that allow you to slap a freeze on your report for a small fee. With a freeze, no potential lender can order your credit information unless you first contact the agencies and tell them to unlock your report. The idea is to make it nearly impossible for someone else to borrow money in your name. "Credit monitoring can't prevent ID theft," says Chris Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "The thing that is worth paying for is the security freeze."
Dear Reader: Having lost my identity, if not my mind, I can not compose my usual sardonic sign-off. Please suggest one via e-mail to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. No mail from earthlink.net addresses will receive responses unless you promise to turn off your anti-spam protection.)
Correction, June 3, 2006: This story erred by quoting an AP piece that contained an error: The AP mistakenly stated that half of the ID theft victims in a study blamed the theft on relatives, friends, neighbors, or in-home employees. In fact, half of ID theft victims in the study who determined who ripped them off blamed those people. The AP later moved a corrected version, to which this story now links. (Return to the corrected sentence.)