Financial Update (Fourth Quarter 2005)



FEATURES

 Jack Guynn on
 Economic Growth,
 Hurricanes

 Payment Services
 Withstand Katrina’s
 Might

 Pat Barron on the
 Need to Improve
 Payment Systems

 Directo a México
 Promotes FedACH

 Webcast
 Introduces New
 Bank Secrecy
 Act Manual

 Credit Cards’
 Benefits Outweigh
 Identity Theft
 Risks

 Go Direct Campaign
 Encourages Direct
 Deposit

 New HMDA Data
 Include Loan Pricing

 Redesigned $10 Bill
 to Debut in ’06

 Conference
 Explores Latin
 American Bank
 Reform

 Final CRA Rules
 Take Effect

 Revisions Proposed
 to ATM Fee
 Disclosure

DEPARTMENTS

 Data Bank

 Circular Letters

STAFF

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Credit Cards’ Benefits Outweigh Chance of ID Theft

 

The digital age has seen a proliferation of identity theft—the malicious use of personal identifying data. Although the media have focused on a few incidents in which hackers gained access to large amounts of personal data, the more pervasive problem is smaller in scale: the theft of credit card numbers or Social Security numbers. Policymakers have been reluctant to address this problem because the collection of personal data is central to the effective allocation of credit.

Cards save merchants money
In a recent Atlanta Fed working paper (Working Paper 2005-19), authors Charles M. Kahn and William Roberds explore the advantages and disadvantages of payment instruments such as credit cards. The credit card’s main advantage, the authors note, is its economy for the merchant, who can cheaply verify it without having to verify the identity of the individual using the card. The card’s advantage also opens the door to its disadvantage: the introduction of the possibility of fraud and identity theft.

Related
“Credit and Identity Theft”
Federal Trade Commisison survey of identity theft
Article on fraud in the credit card industry

Better verification could control theft
Kahn and Roberds construct a theoretical model of money and payments that shows the advantage of payment instruments such as credit cards outweighs the disadvantage of the possibility of identity theft. They suggest that identity theft could be better controlled by more intense verification of borrowers’ identities but add that this verification might lead to unacceptable levels of social and private cost. But it is up to society, they argue, to determine the acceptable equilibrium between convenient credit card use and the fraud that can arise from credit transactions.

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