The basics, folks:
Lacking a Social Security Number, identities would be easier to steal.
Identity theft was easier back in the day (less checking and security protocols overall) but the payoff was pathetic or non-existent. Actually, one basic thing I mention later about shipping policies might be the biggest security feature.
First, because of the internet and electronic commerce instant sales/credit went through the atmosphere, and the payoff for stealing someone’s identity went through the atmosphere, too.
The other factor was numerous finance companies backing store fronts. For example, you buy a $5000 home entertainment system on instant credit. A 24 year old sales clerk employed by Best Buy gathers your I.D. and wants the sales. GE Capital approves the loan and you leave with the goods. Best Buy isn’t GE Cap and GE Cap also has interest rates of 21% to cover for the fraud they encounter. High turnover, some fraud and consumers who love instant credit regardless of the actual cost out of pocket.
Shipping: Used to be that you could only receive goods at the address the credit card is registered to, but you can order goods now on a credit card registered in one place and have it delivered someplace else. Again, the companies that do this absorb risk and cover it with high fees, and interest rates. Now, this is probably the most overlooked thing going on.
If I steal your identity, the payoff nowadays is instant credit (leave with the goods now – see my example) and the ability to get the goods to a address I can grab them at , thanks to changes in shipping policy.
Fraud always existed, but the two issues (finance company backed store fronts) and the change in shipping policy it quick and easy and provide a good return on the effort. Toss in high interest rates to cover finance company losses and it (identity theft) is here to stay.
Example: Sears used to be the number on financer of goods, like appliances, tools furniture. Sears cards were good to have, and not defrauded very often (versus current markets). Sears backed sears. Sears shipped to your home. Sears established a long-term relationship with the customer.