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Identity theft in Europe is different than in U.S.

Identity theft seems to be all around. Most Americans look at it as something we just have to deal with. Is this really true?

Upon further investigation it was discovered we needed something to compare our theft situation with. Turning to Europe seemed logical. However, determining the rate of identity theft in Europe was difficult. Per data security experts it isn’t enough of a problem to warrant a comprehensive survey.

Digging into this a little further found there was an exception; the United Kingdom (U.K.).

The comparison is the United Kingdom had an estimated 100,000 people, or about 0.17% of the population while the U.S. had an estimated 10 million ID-theft victims a year, or 3.39% of the population.

If you were wondering why this is; one reason found was that Social Security numbers are for Social Security and nothing else. Most European residents have national identity cards with the exception of the U.K. At present the the U.K. is still struggling with the concept. Credit bureaus tend to have unique identifying numbers for the consumers in their databases. Social Security numbers are used for retirement benefits, not as an all-purpose identifier.

It is much more difficult to steal your identity in Europe for the simple reason that the key piece of information an identity thief needs is a person’s national ID number, and that appears in a lot fewer places than Social Security numbers do in the U.S.

Another reason for less ID theft is information is kept private. Western European countries have laws that keep businesses from sharing and selling private financial or personal information. Information is only available to the person to whom it pertains. The European Union privacy directives restrict data aggregation of public records.

In Europe, companies are not allowed to create or sell databases of people’s former addresses and phone numbers. Such databases in the U.S. are often used to contact neighbors or relatives of people who owe debts in an attempt to find out current data on a debtor.

Also, in many European countries, credit bureaus are maintained by groups of banks that share information with each other and not with outsiders.

France, Spain and Denmark laws permit the bureaus to report only negative information about consumers. This does make a limited database for lenders, forcing them to use other factors to gauge a potential consumers credit risk.

Contrast that with the U.S., where just about any business can acquire data from a credit bureau and use credit scoring to determine a potential consumer’s risk of default. The ease of accessing all that information has enabled lenders to make credit decisions in a matter of seconds. This is what most Americans are looking for, instant answers.

Europe’s process is often much slower. However, this delay makes it harder for thieves to open new accounts in someone else’s name.

One more reason which may seem interesting to some is that Europeans are far more likely to use debit cards or deferred debit cards rather than credit cards. The deferred debit card is when charges are deducted from checking accounts once a month, instead of daily. These debit cards are issued by their banks, keeping identity information safe within that institution. The percentage of plastic card usage is 27% credit cards and 73% debit cards.

A known fact is that debit cards also limit the amount of financial havoc a thief can wreak as well as the “reward” he may reap from your identity. The truth is your bank account might be drained temporarily, but the potential losses are usually far lower than when a thief takes ownership of your credit card or establishes a new account in your name.

In France, Britain and other countries, credit card issuers have replaced the magnetic strips with tiny computer chips. The chips are much more difficult to reproduce than the magnetic strip. The consumer no longer needs to sign for the purchases, but enters their personal identification numbers into the merchant’s terminal. This technology is begin credited with reducing France’s payment fraud by half since it was introduced in 1992.

There are other ways that one can lose money and not even know it. Ever make a utility deposit, move and then later wonder if you ever did get your deposit back because you did not give a forwarding address? How about that safe deposit box? Have you visited it lately? If not it could be turned over to the state to locate and return the assets. Perhaps you quit your job in such a rage that you forgot about collecting the final paycheck. All of these are examples of how money goes unclaimed.

No matter where you lived or how long ago it was you still have a right to claim your cash. A simple way to check each state with one entry is to visit www.CashUnclaimed.com. This company was founded with the idea of making it simple to find and claim unclaimed property.

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