Sometimes, though, anonymity is not possible, and that's where things can get dicey.
Last week, for example, a Fort Lauderdale authentication firm announced that it was offering its service free to anyone who wanted to use it to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Why would an authentication service help out in flood recovery? A lot of the victims had to flee their homes and they lost identification documents (birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, Visas, etc.).
They are often in that government Catch-22: to get new copies of their documents, they need to prove that they are who they are, which is difficult to do if their documents have been destroyed.
President Bush has announced a plan to make that easier for flood victims, but how easy it will be isn't clear, and there's no indication that policy will be universal.
Let's say a victim wants their cell phone or credit card company to send them a replacement. They often can't let them ship it to the address on record because that address might have been destroyed.
When a consumer asks for phones or identification documents sent to an address that is not on file, companies get legitimately nervous and want further proof of identity.
There's also another problem. Those abandoned houses have tons of identification documents in them.
Whether documents are stolen by looters or found literally floating down the street, identify theft becomes a very real risk. And that makes the cell phone companies and the banks even more suspicious.
Even worse, some bank chains are asking consumers who have lost their checks to pick up new checks at their local branch.
However, a lot of local bank branches have been washed away, along with the million-or-so people who have been displaced.
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