Dude, Where's My ID?

Millions of Americans are victims of identity theft... and now Brian Unger is one of them. Our Day to Day cracked correspondent shares his humbling tale.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The Federal Trade Commission says 10 million consumers are falling victim to some form of identity theft each year. One of those victims is here with us now, as he is every Monday. Here's Brian Unger with today's Unger Report.

BRIAN UNGER:

When Deep Throat said, `Follow the money,' was he talking about a UPS truck? If you or someone you know is following a UPS truck somewhere between Texas and Citigroup's CitiFinancial and a box fell off the back of the truck, would you please return it to the local sheriff? The box contained some stuff of great sentimental value in the form of, well, personal credit information on 3.9 million consumer lending customers and, well, 50,000 customers with closed accounts. So if you found yourself wondering, `Hey, what should I do with all these credit cards stuck in the grill of my car?' please return them to Citigroup.

Now I'm sure after paying $2.58 billion to WorldCom investors last year and $2 billion to Enron investors last week, Citigroup has enough money left over to pay a reward to someone returning their precious UPS cargo. But it is possible that someone is transcribing and decoding your financial history right now at a backyard barbecue near Laredo. A bunch of folks are eating ribs and playing horseshoes and laughing at your low credit score. Or Citigroup's box of credit information is lying in a creek unnoticed and crawdads are using it as a manmade reef. Either way, look what Brown can do for you.

Now in defense of UPS, they ship 14 million packages a day. At least one parcel containing sensitive financial data that winds up in the hands of a person who will ruin you and your family forever is bound to get lost. This stuff happens. For instance, who hasn't had a mattress fly off the top of their car on moving day only to realize it after, you know, they got to the new house? I'm guilty.

I didn't care much about identity theft until I got a call a few days ago from American Express telling me that someone was charging tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry on my credit card in Japan.

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Mr. ROBERT DE NIRO: My Far East...

UNGER: In Robert De Niro's American Express commercial, his Far East is Manhattan's Chinatown.

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Mr. DE NIRO: ...my private side.

UNGER: Mine, it turns out, is the actual Far East. American Express excused me of the charges, but failed to catch the culprit, who most likely broke into my cyberuniverse and made off with my digits.

The theft of my credit information could have been due to a recently discovered vulnerability in the JavaScript engine of my Firefox browser, or it simply could have fallen off a UPS truck in, say, Osaka. It's hard to know. But from loading docks to data centers, companies need to better manage the care and handling of our personal data, or we may all have to go back to storing things in our mattress, which, as we know, sometimes gets lost on moving day. And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

BRAND: And if you have comments about the Unger Report, or about anything else you've heard on our show, send us an e-mail. The address is daytoday--one word--@npr.org.

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BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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