Despite its unparalleled efforts to protect consumer information, the financial services industry has often been targeted by consumers and legislators engaged in the nation's privacy debate.
Even more frustrating to the industry, the issue that consumers most often cite in surveys conducted for the American Bankers Association on privacy matters is fear of stolen identities, which bankers are helpless to prevent - or are they?
Seemingly every day our news media cover stories of victims of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission reports that this horrendous crime affects 500,000 to 750,000 people a year - not including victims who never reported to the FTC. As consumers demand more convenient channels for conducting their financial affairs, identity theft seems destined to remain one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country.
Though our industry supported legislation to outlaw unauthorized possession, transfer, or use of another person's identification information and though victims were recently given recourse to restitution, the problem continues nearly unabated because this crime is easy to commit and the probability of prosecution is low.
But our industry can and must do more for consumers - especially for consumers who find themselves victims, vulnerable to further disruption of their lives. People need our expertise and guidance to restore their financial status and regain confidence in the system. Therein lies the opportunity.
First and foremost, we must raise awareness of the issue and educate consumers as to how best to protect their identities - before they are victimized. The ABA has an Identity Theft Communications Kit, - which includes talking points, a sample speech, and consumer checklists. - to help bankers do just this.
Next week as the holiday shopping season begins, Comerica is playing host to Identity Protection Week. We will put out informational brochures at branches nationwide, meet with community and civic groups to discuss identity theft, and offer assistance through a special toll-free phone number linked to one of our specially trained employees.
Second, few consumers are familiar with where to start, what to say, and whom to contact when they are victimized. Again, Comerica has specially trained employees who are prepared to help.
We also have developed a Victim's Recovery Kit, which includes sample letters to credit bureaus and financial institutions, as well as a log for recording actions taken to report the crime.
Third, bankers must ensure that we have internal safeguards and disciplines in place to provide the best available defense against identity theft. These include colleague training (particularly in pretext-call avoidance), robust security standards (including fraud detection methods), and a vigorously enforced code of ethics that unequivocally condemns inappropriate access to information. We also must examine the various customer records and statements we maintain to determine whether we can remove unnecessary customer-identifying information.
Finally, bankers must communicate. We must inform consumers, legislators, and the media that banks consider the protection of confidential information and the fight against its fraudulent use to be core to our business relationships and therefore something that commands our highest priority and continued attention. If public perception is otherwise, our industry will have allowed a significant competitive advantage to be lost.
Mr. Miller is chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Comerica Inc. and co-chairman of the American Bankers Association task force for responsible use and protection of customer information.