Entrepreneur snapshot: one company's quest to stop identity theft

It's not exactly news that identity theft is a problem, but it is reassuring to know that at least some entrepreneurs are working on combating it, and in a way that doesn't require Joe Public to spend extra money. (I wonder if there is a guy out there named Joe Public, who gets ticked off every time someone uses his name to symbolize common everyday folk. I should look into that one day. But I digress.)

There are a growing number of services people can purchase to keep their identities safe. Yet the idea that I have to pay another monthly fee for this protection makes me kind of resentful. So I have to admit, as a consumer, I'm rooting for a guy like Ludwik Zon, 54, of Miri Systems, to succeed. He is the CEO of a startup, which is based on a technology that two of his business partners have developed. It's not on the market yet, but it's difficult to imagine how it won't be, if it really works the way he says it does.Miri Systems, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, hopes to convince the big name credit cards to start utilizing what they call the Miri Card software chip, a technology developed by Zon's co-founders, CTO Ron Sanstrom and CFO Paul Vasil. Miri Systems also has a fourth partner, COO Grant Neerings, and something like 24 IT people working with them. It may be a startup, but it already has an infrastructure resembling an established corporation.

In a nutshell, people whose credit cards use the Miri Systems technology can make a purchase, and instead of their credit card number going out there into the ether, a special single virtual number for each credit or debit card is used.

In other words: I buy a book at a store, or online or through my cell phone. When my number is stored in the records of the bookstore, they don't actually get my real number but this virtual number that's been assigned to this particular purchase. So my card number isn't being kept in a place, where thieves can possibly access it... and if they do happen to hack into the store's computer system and steal my virtual credit card number, it's useless to them.

This special virtual number is also encrypted in a way that account details are hidden from merchants and enables law enforcement to easily track down any credit card thieves. That's what Miri Systems' people say, anyway.

I have no idea if it works, but again, if it keeps a customer's identity safe without having to fork over yet another monthly fee, it sounds promising. And something needs to be done. As it was widely reported last month, an international ring of credit card thieves stole more than 41 million credit and debit card numbers last year by hacking into computer networks of nine national retail chains, including Barnes & Noble, BJ's Wholesale Club and Office Max. I asked Zon if that helps entrepreneurs like him make the case for his technology.

Zon said that since the theft is over a year old, and it's just that now, "the indictments are currently taking place," all of the credit card companies that he's been talking to are well aware of this latest heist. "So everyone in the industry is familiar with this breach, but every day there are new headlines, new crime rings and new scams," says Zon. Not that he is glad, but it does tend to help him make the case that something needs to be done "without having to re-invent the wheel."

So I asked Mr. Zon what WalletPop readers can do, if they think it sounds interesting and want to help a startup company get their product adopted by the major credit card companies, which Miri Systems is apparently in touch with on a weekly basis.

"There's nothing like a grassroots effort to support the Miri campaign," replied a grateful Zon. "We encourage your readers to contact their banks, also known as their credit card issue and request a Miri Card. Their banks can reach us at MiriSystems.com to find out how to provide the Miri Card to their customers."

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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