Banking under a bad sign

Identity verification question raises questions

Birthplace, mother's maiden name, first dog: These are the staples of online identity authentication questions.

Not so much this next one, as encountered and tweeted by Boston Globe reporter Todd Wallack:


The first problem I have with this authentication question is personal: At the moment I read Wallack's tweet, I couldn't for the life of me remember my sign, no doubt in part because of my long-held dismissiveness toward the silliness that is astrology. A few minutes later, however, the answer surfaced from wherever in my head it had sheepishly hidden: I am a Scorpio.

While that solved my immediate problem, I'm guessing "a few minutes later" wouldn't have been good enough for Wallack when he was doing his banking. In other words, I ask: Does everyone even know their astrological sign? I certainly hope not (please, younger generation, tell me you didn't even know you had one).

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And mulling the matter a bit more raised this question, too: How effective is an authentication question that carries with it a 1 in 12 chance of being correctly guessed?

I'll tell you how effective: No more than asking for the month in which you were born, an alternative that at least has the benefit of ensuring the customer will know the answer.

But perhaps I am being too dismissive (not likely), as I did stumble across a news story, published Dec. 29 in Canada's  National Post, that may offer a clue as to why the bank cares about astrological signs:

Police in Chatham-Kent, Ont., announced Wednesday that, of 1,986 people arrested so far this year, 203 were Aries, whereas just 139 were Sagittarius.

It is the first time the municipality has ranked its suspects by Zodiac sign. Aries were the most arrested, with Libras in second at 189 arrests, and Virgo third at 183. The least criminal were Sagittarius (139 arrests), Aquarius (142) and Taurus (146).

"To provide an interesting astrological perspective, an algorithm was applied to all the arrestees' dates of birth," the Chatham-Kent Police Service said in a news release.

So now I think I might get what that bank is doing (wink-wink): Since a would-be thief attempting to guess a customer's astrological sign is likely to start with their own sign first, anyone answering Aries who isn't actually an Aries would be denied access altogether rather than get a chance to correct their error.

Quite clever.

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