Security Through Hilarity: Statistics on funny ID photos

August 29, 2013 // Posted in Culture, Marketing, Security  

ID_photos_02Like me, you may have also observed that many employees of retail and restaurant businesses don’t look at the picture on a bank card when it’s handed to them during a transaction.  When they do, they often glaze over it out of habit.  The key to having a more secure bank card is not simply including a picture, but including one that grabs attention and gets a reaction that at naturally results in them verifying your identity.

Several years ago I experienced identity theft when a bank card was stolen from me.  I’d accidentally left my card in an ATM and it was quickly nabbed.  The thief, or thieves, extracted a couple hundred dollars from my account and then went on a shopping spree of movie tickets and McDonalds cuisine before I noticed it and cancelled the card.  Fortunately the FDIC covered my losses and I was only inconvenienced with time.

That all too common experience left me wondering how thieves were able to easily use credit cards that are not their own and what could be done to prevent it.  In recent years, banks have given customers the option of placing an ID photo on their bank card as an extra security measure.  While this is a good first step, I believe that there isn’t much incentive for employees of a business to check the ID of their customers.  I also believe that we as customers can do something about it.

I’ve compiled these notes and charts detailing some strategies and non-scientific research numbers from my own observations.  My conclusion is that a funny face in your photo on a bank card results in an increased amount of verification, thus deterring potential identity thieves.  It’s also a great way to bring a smile to someone’s day or break the ice in a conversation.  Having a funny picture on a drivers license still achieves the smiles, except when it comes to interactions with police.  There is a slight increase in the likelihood that a ticket will be issued instead of a warning if you’re pulled over and have a silly picture on your license.  I think that cops don’t like people who appear to have a healthy disregard for authoritarianism.

How to take a funny photo for your ID.

Banks – Banks will usually take customer photos at their branches.  Most employees there are happy to have fun with the photos.  The people who processed my first bank card photo kept mailing me a new card without the photo, saying “something was wrong with the image.”  By being persistent, and taking the picture at the bank a few more times, the card issuers eventually sent me my card with the silly picture on it.

Department Of Licensing – Your mileage here will vary depending on who is working the photo booth.  The first time I took a funny photo at the DOL, the photographer had a blast with it.  The second time, at a different location, the photographer tried to scold me.  My afternoon was free and there was a big line of people, so I just held my facial expression and she eventually took the photo.  A Pastafarian also recently won the right to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his Texas drivers license.  Illinois is not nearly as progressive.

Company ID photos – Most companies won’t care what kind of picture you place on your ID badge.  When I worked for a big software company, I used a silly ID picture and some other folks started doing the same.  I’m looking at you Ian!  The only issue you might have is how it’s interpreted by senior leadership.

Passport Agencies – These places are serious business.  They will reject a photo if you have any silly expression.  Heck, they will even reject a photo if you’re smiling and showing teeth in your photo.  They claim that it has to do with the capabilities of their facial recognition software.  Having worked in the realm of computer vision, I can tell you that computers are capable of recognizing faces regardless of whether or not the person is smiling.  I think it’s just institutionalized stodginess.  But alas, I haven’t been able to get a passport with a silly photo on it yet.  If you’re able to, please let me know!

The Stats

Update 8/29/13 – My source for these statistics was personal experience using these cards over the past several years.  Keep in mind that this was not a scientifically accurate study.  It should be considered an approximation.  My sample rate for police interaction was also quite low, thankfully.

bank_card_no_photo_01bank_card_normal_photo_01bank_card_funny_photo_01   drivers_license_bar_normal_photo_01drivers_license_bar_funny_photo_01   drivers_license_cop_normal_photo_01drivers_license_cop_funny_photo_01



This entry was posted on August 29, 2013 at 2:19 pm and is filed under Culture, Marketing, Security. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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