In-brief: One in four Americans was the victim of data theft, but policy makers can’t find the spirit to act.
What if I said that there was a disease that affected one in four adults in the U.S.? This disease caused pain and hardship and the costs of curing it were considerable – ranging to thousands of dollars per patient? And, again: one in four people contacted this disease – 25% of the adult population?Most epidemiologists would consider a disease that widely spread to be an “epidemic.” After all, the CDC considers an influenza outbreak to be an “epidemic” when around 7% of morbidity (deaths) in a given observation period are due to the flu.
Here in the U.S., however, there’s a long-standing affliction bearing down on a quarter of the population, but nary a mention of the words “epidemic.” In fact, officials who monitor this disease are loath to even see it for what it is: a public health crisis. That’s because the disease isn’t biological, it is social and technological. That disease is data theft.
While there is no comprehensive, federal accounting of this “disease,” a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers released by the firm Accenture gives some dimensions to the problem. Accenture found that 26 percent of U.S. consumers have had their personal medical information stolen from technology systems. Of those, around half (50 percent) were victims of medical identity theft. Anecdotally, evidence of this epidemic can be found in your local paper, where the police logs will document a steady stream of complaints to local authorities about online fraud, credit card fraud, malware attacks and the like.