Identity Crisis

Drawn to Mike Walsh’s blog by a posting on Dave Winer’s blog, I was fascinated to see his saga of trying to prove his identity to a credit agency, Equifax in this case.

I went directly to the Equifax site to order an online version of my report. According to the info available on the site, I was entitled to one credit report per year at the Federally mandated price of $9. In order to get your report you type in your name, address and social security number. The system then issues you two multiple choice “challenge questions” to verify that you are who you say you are. So they hit me with…

Question #1: You have a mortgage with:
a. Acme Mortgage, b. Niagara Mortgage, c. Northland Savings and Loan, d. Screw the Homeowner Mortgage Company
e. None of the above

My answer is e. I never even heard of any of these companies.

Question #2: Your monthly mortgage payment is:

a. $865, b. $936, c. $1,184, d. $1,345

e. None of the above

My answer is e.

Whilst working on the Gateway, we’ve often contemplated the idea of “challenge questions” (or shared secrets) to make for a stronger proof of identity – but we know that, often, people will either forget the answer or we’ll have bad data initially. In Mike’s case it’s either bad data or someone is using his identity – the latter obviously being far worse.

When I tried the UK equivalent of this process, with experian, they didn’t know who I was either – a legacy, I think, of having spent several years abroad and of having had a different address every year for about 7 years. We don’t ask such challenge questions in the UK though – but maybe we should?

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