I admit it. The title of this blog is a completely transparent attempt at grandstanding but no less so than the source for my rant. I do not know if Clark Howard hates trees. That is however a logical conclusion one might reach given the advice I heard him give to millions recently. Howard, in case you do not know, is the popular and well respected consumer advocate who has been a staple of Atlanta media forever (more hyperbole).
Clark very nearly contributed to Atlanta’s famously bad traffic the other day, almost causing me to run off the road. He directed his listeners to go back to receiving paper statements. Why on Earth would you ever do that?
Electronic statements are cheaper to produce, eco-friendly, efficient and have become the preferred method for virtually every business that once weighted down the mail carrier’s bag. Clark’s rationale though is that paper statements are necessary because hackers could eradicate your electronic existence at your favorite financial institution after stealing your money and the paper proves that you are real.
Words I want to use in response to this advice won’t make it past my corporate filters.
Unclear but Present Danger
First there is no denying that there are real and worrisome cyber-threats today that are growing every more sophisticated and troublesome. Yes it is possible to delete account histories. If your understanding of financial systems stops there it would worry you but “you” exist in many places electronically within an institution’s systems and there are backups,offline and otherwise that record it all. I am not saying it would not be a colossal pain recovering your history, but unrecoverable? Hardly.
You should take every reasonable precaution to protect your information and not do stupid things on your computer, like clicking on that link from Nigerian prince or ogling things on websites your mother wouldn’t approve of. That said, there is no magic virus that reaches out to every system at a target and erases all traces of you at a company.
For that vast majority of us let’s be honest – we are not worth the effort. This is the kind of thinking that is popular in Hollywood (remember The Net? ugh) but this reaction to an unidentified incident is the result of a fundamental lack of understanding of how systems really work.
The Enemy At The End of Your Driveway
The most vulnerable place in your life to identity theft is probably not your computer. It is still your mailbox. With a fist full of paper utility bills and bank statements average criminals can make your life miserable FOR YEARS. This is a far more tangible threat but one actually made worse by Howard’s advice.
To completely deny the risk is foolish. It does exist. To say however that it is a greater threat for most people than the old fashioned method is just unreasonable. If you want a copy of your statements, which is a good idea, then download it and store it a manner that gives you the peace of mind you need to sleep at night. The answer is not insisting on paper when there is a 99.9999% chance that you will never use it.
One day though there will be that .0001% event followed by more over reaction. As for me.