Identity theft is everywhere these days. No company or individual who has ever used a credit card online is safe from criminal hackers and social engineering thieves. And although large corporations may have the most information that identity thieves can target, smaller companies can still yield hundreds or thousands of credit card numbers.

©Webiliz - flickr

©Webiliz – flickr

One of the tactics these criminals use is to steal a huge list of credit card numbers and then begin making numerous small charges on each of them. Many consumers may not even recognize a series of charges for between $2 and $6 on their bank statement. But $30 worth of charges over a thousand credit cards is highly lucrative for thieves.

There is also almost zero risk in stealing credit cards from online merchants and using them. While much of this type of theft goes unreported, even the cases that are reported to the police end up going nowhere. A consumer in Ohio may purchase something from a website in California that is hacked by an individual in Tennessee who uses a credit card to initiate a fraudulent charge in New Jersey. Where do local authorities even begin to address this?

Federal and state regulatory agencies are also ill-equipped to deal with such instances of credit card fraud. For $30 in disputed charges per account, the federal government can not spend hundreds of dollars per case. While there may be a good chance of catching the thieves, much of the money may be gone, making tracking down small-time identity thieves a losing financial proposition for the government.

As well, disputing a whole list of charges to get them removed from a bank or credit card account is positively a waste of time for consumers. The companies that took the fraudulent charges will not answer phones, not return voice mails, or refuse to refund the charge without a police report or other evidence of fraud. This is a lot of work to get back $4.95, and many consumers will just not bother to pursue it.

While banks may accept disputes and refund money to consumers who are targets of these criminals, the banks most often recover nothing from the thieves. Instead, money is set aside in a reserve account to cover these losses. But the funds for the reserve show up in higher interest rates and fees for all banking customers, as the costs of identity theft are passed along to the consumers anyway.

Unfortunately, it seems that it is easier to make money through the drug trade, identity theft, and other black market endeavors. It is also just as risky as holding a normal job in these tough economic times. Being caught and facing monetary judgments or community service is not really all that worse than being laid off, foreclosed, and homeless. And while the costs of identity theft are passed along to consumers, the costs of foreclosure and job loss usually affect only local families and communities.

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