I received a few emails related to my recent post about bad HR. This time asking why I thought it was appropriate to list something regarding identity theft under the tag Humor. I was reminded that identity theft is a serious problem and isn’t funny.

I wholeheartedly agree with this as my wife is among the millions of Americans who have had their identity fraudulently stolen (8.9 million in 2006 alone). On the bright side it seems the situation is improving, although American’s lost $49.3 billion last year, the rate of theft decreased by 11.5%, reflecting increased vigilance by business and consumers alike. I must warn you, though exploring the underlying psychology behind social occurrences as with many of my posts, this will be more off-color than most.

I think we can all agree that theft is wrong, it is part of almost every legal code, some Arab countries still sever the hands of thieves, I believe there is even a passage about it in the Christian Bible. When it involves heavily personal items such as cars, money, and above all identity it becomes especially hanus. A great deal of my academic research has been the relationship we possess with the tasks we perform, but it is hardly the only thing that drives who we are. There are in fact levels of identity, we identify with our families, our independence, our countries, and the possessions we own. There are countless others and the hierarchy they assume varies by individual.

This explains why some people can watch a news story about a car jacking going wrong and say to themselves, “they are only possessions, get out of the car” and the other party unwilling to get out of their car and let the thief have it. Sure there is panic, the instinctual fight or flight response, but I believe there is something more. When the criminal is driving away, a piece of ourselves is going with it (and I’m sure a fair percentage wish they had a Mad Max self-destruct button). The result of an AP-AOL Auto poll indicate the strong personal relationship Americans share with their automobile.

Like many in an AP-AOL Autos poll, her car is more than a machine and her relationship with it is intensely personal.Almost four in 10 of those polled said their car has a personality of its own. Two in 10 have a nickname for their car. Most often it is a female nickname; popular choices include variations on Betsy, Nelly, Blue and Baby.

When people talk about their strong feelings for their cars and trucks, they mention dependability, time spent maintaining them and the freedom that comes from cruising on the open road.

It is along this line that identity theft is such despicable crime. The loss of a possession, though sometimes hard to replace, is easier to move on from than the piece of personal identity and freedom you loose with identity theft. Those who experience it still harbor lack of trust in others and given the hardships of being issued a new Social Security number, fear it is just a matter of time before it happens again. As I stated above, my wife has lived this nightmare and was reminded again recently when the University of Texas at Dallas sent a letter informing us that her personal data (name, address, phone number and social) and 35,000 others was part of a data security breach almost 2 months after the fact.

While legislators have started to pass laws to improve data security, they are woefully inadequate when they come to apprehending and prosecuting offenders. My personal thoughts on identity theft are simple. If someone assumes who you are, then is it really illegal to kill them, wouldn’t it just be suicide?