became less of a remote possibility over the last
couple of months as several date reporting agencies admitted that they were hacked
or otherwise compromised. Therefore, it is time to revisit the issue of credit
and fraud alerts
In February ChoicePoint, a firm that markets data to a wide range of
customers - data apparently based on personal information about you, me, everybody
- announced that their security had been breached and that personal information
such as Social Security numbers and other credit information on 145,000 people
had been stolen.
Shortly thereafter another database firm, LexisNexis
, revealed that
they had suffered a similar intrusion and that the bad guys might have pirated
information on some 32,000 of their customers. This week they restated that
figure, admitting that nearly ten times that many people may now have personal
financial information residing in the wrong hands.
Both ChoicePoint and LexisNexis have acted quickly to inform persons whose
identities may potentially have been compromised. Still, this is pretty scary
For one thing, it appears that it is up to the victim to prove that his identity
has been stolen. Google "identity theft" or even "credit reports"
and read some truly horrifying accounts of people (even some infants) who have
lost their identities to criminals who go far beyond emptying bank accounts
or misusing credit cards. Stories abound about victims who lose jobs, even end
up in jail for car theft, DWI, child abuse, and other acts committed in their
names. The underlying theme of many of these tales is that there is really nowhere
to go to fully clear a name or redeem credit history once they are hijacked.
This may, however, be changing. It has taken half a decade, but the crime has
finally registered with Washington, and as this is being written, the Senate
is holding hearings on the subject. At this hearing the head of the Federal
Trade Commission testified that over ten million people have been victims of
identity theft and that cumulative loses exceed $5 billion.
Today's hearings specifically address legislation which would regulate
data brokerage firms such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis. There still, however,
appears to be nothing on the horizon that would create a remedy for those who
Therefore, it is appropriate to once again remind everyone that, under the Fair
and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) that all Americans
have or will soon have the right to a free copy of their credit report every
year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Request a report
from one of these agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion)
every four months and you will be able to pretty closely monitor your credit
The right to access these reports has been rolling out one region at a time
since the first of the year. At present (as of March 1) residents in every state
west of Kansas and north of Oklahoma are eligible to receive them. As of June
1, the entire south from Oklahoma in a pretty straight line east to the North
Carolina/South Carolina line will be entitled to apply; the final region, the
Northeast and all U.S. possessions and territories becomes eligible on September
To receive your free credit report(s) when your state comes
online, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.
And, if you are already a victim of identity theft, check out www.consumer.gov/idtheft
for some helpful tips on how to proceed to put your life back together.