The other day a tech savvy San Francisco woman logged onto to Fedex.com to schedule a package delivery. As she opened her account, the website asked her a series of multiple choice questions to validate her identity. One asked: Which of the previous ZIP codes had she ever been associated with. And it listed among the choices the ZIP code of her childhood home.
She reacted strongly. “WTF, how could they know that?” she wondered to herself. “I’ve never given them that information.”
Fedex also asked in what month she was born and what past telephone numbers were associated with her past residences. It was a lot of intimate information just to schedule a package delivery. But nowadays many companies are demanding a greater level of personal information than ever before just to do business with them. Some universities have also embraced the verification technique for students learning online….
…In previous articles I have written about how stores ask for our personal ZIP codes to build marketing profiles about customers stealthily, and how gas stations use ZIP codes as verification against fraud. Few topics related to personal data seem to chafe people as much as merchants’ frequent requests for our ZIP codes.
So how do these companies know such detailed information which we never shared with them and would rather they not have? They turn to data brokers that store vast dossiers on hundreds of millions of Americans.
Yes, the data collected by people whose interests might be in conflict with our own does in fact equal a loss of control.
It will continue to get more intrusive – until we resist.
Ford Interest Advantage, a Ford Motor Credit Company money market fund, recently added a similar layer of additional security as part of an upgrade. First they ask for a phone number to send a verification code. If that is not available, users can click on another option: “Phone not available? You can answer verification questions derived from public or commercially available records to continue.”
Of course, if Ford can get this information, anyone could.
Being asked for data dating back decades such as a childhood ZIP code makes some people uneasy, a sentiment the San Francisco woman felt. Another problem is that personal data such as previous addresses and ZIP codes are increasingly easily accessed by anyone via online brokers. That may add an extra step or two for fraudsters and identity thieves, but the smart ones will quick adapt to advance their scams.
Trivial information known only to you such as the name of a childhood pet or a favorite professional athlete helps with the valid goal of authentication, but comes across as less intrusive.