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June 2008

Address Authentication and Transaction Validation Protocols to Stem Identity Theft

Today's financial system makes identity theft inevitable by relying on none-too-secret identifiers. Preliterate societies often fear that knowing somebody's real name imparts supernatural power over that person. To protect themselves from evil magicians, people in such societies share their true name only with family and close friends. Ironically, in today's financial system, if you know somebody's name, you have the power to take out financial transactions in their name. We've created a primitive system that makes identity theft inevitable. Social Security, credit card and bank account numbers are just identifiers--names--without which you wouldn't know where to send the bill. Perversely, we treat these names like passwords. We make a very ill-advised assumption that if you know one of these identifiers, then it must be your personal identifier. Unlike passwords, they aren't secret, so how can they not be stolen? Credit card issuers keep adding little information tags to the cards to make them more difficult to abuse, but these...

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