Monday, January 21, 2008

Book Review: Identity Theft

Graham McWaters and Gary Ford work for financial institutions and are writers and public speakers on financial matters. This is a review of their book, “The Canadian Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Other Fraud,” published by Insomniac Press. Although there is some focus on Canada, much of the material is relevant in the US as well.

This book is a useful guide to the different types of fraud that people need to understand and avoid. The authors do a good job of personalizing the material with victim stories. Some types of fraud covered are debit and credit-card fraud, gathering personal information from computers on the internet, real-estate fraud, investment scams, and telephone-based scams.

A frequent problem with personal finance and investment books (and self-help books in general) is repetitiveness. It’s not unusual for a book to have only 20 pages of real content repeated in multiple ways to produce a 200-page book. This book is better than most, but is somewhat repetitive and could easily be cut to half its length without sacrificing any content.

The authors do a good job of explaining the details of how fraudsters operate. In this respect, the book is somewhat alarmist. The authors also do a good job of giving advice on how to avoid becoming a victim and what to do if you are victimized.

Because I was already aware of most of the different types of fraud discussed, the most interesting part of the book to me was the discussion of who ends up on the hook for financial losses. This is the most difficult type of information to gather, and I wish the book had more of it.

Banks usually replace small amounts stolen from bank accounts, but what if a fraudster steals a quarter million dollars from an investment account? Will the bank gladly replace the money? If not, how is this likely to be resolved in the courts?

If I buy a house and later discover that it was sold to me illegally by someone other than the true owner, someone will be out a lot of money. In some ways everyone involved is a victim due to the time and effort that will go into resolving the issue, but what factors will decide who ultimately loses the large sum of money stolen by the fraudster? Some possibilities are me, the real owner, my lawyer, the fraudster’s lawyer, and the government through a program designed to deal with these situations. This book has some information about how this complex situation would play out, but I would like to have seen more.

Overall, this book is a useful guide to identity theft and other fraud, and I recommend it.

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