Braille Monitor                                                    March 2008

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Identity Theft and You Update

by Jim Babb

From the Editor: Jim Babb is a leader of the NFB of New Mexico. He has also become something of an expert on credit protection for the average citizen. This is his latest advice:

Since I wrote the October 2006 Monitor article on identity theft, a lot has happened, both good and bad. The pace of identity theft has vastly increased, and the estimated number of victims a year in the U.S. is about 15,000,000. You have heard the news: MasterCard, Bank of America, TJ Maxx, your university, or your health care provider has lost your personal information, or it was stolen. Mine was lost/stolen from two places I used to work. I was offered a one-year protection program, but what about the rest of my life? The information is out there for future use by criminals. As blind people we are probably more vulnerable to thieves raiding our mailboxes for credit card offers, our print orders for personal checks, etc. The thieves establish new cards, checks, ID cards, etc with a new address. Then they spend thousands of dollars on services and products at your expense. Another form of this practice is called “shoulder surfing,” peeking over your shoulder at check-out or even using a camera phone to take a photo of your credit card or check. The thief then orders expensive items online in your name but using his or her address.

As I mentioned in the previous article, trying to reinstate your good name and credit can be a nightmare and a job you don’t want. This job doesn’t pay; in fact it will cost you or your bank on average $6,000.

Now for the good news: For the last several years Congress has tried to pass ID-theft and credit-protection legislation. They have failed because of intense lobbying by the business community and the three major credit bureaus. The business community doesn’t want any legislation that would choke off instant credit, fearing that impulse buying would decline. The three major credit bureaus make big money on trading your personal information to banks and other businesses, who in turn use this information to make new credit offers to you. Since Congress would not pass national identity theft and credit protection laws, the states began to do it. In fact about thirty states have enacted various forms of a credit-freeze system.

Recently the three major credit bureaus, seeing the handwriting on the wall, have partially capitulated. They now allow credit freeze in all fifty states. This is more convenient for them than dealing with fifty different freeze programs.

Although all U.S. residents can now freeze their credit with all three bureaus, the process is not easy. Remember they would prefer that you not do it because they make money by selling your information. Here is what you need to do: The cost is $10 per bureau. The total to freeze all three credit reports would be $30. Each bureau also charges $10 each time you want to unfreeze (thaw) your records to apply for new credit.

Full instructions for requesting your credit freeze are available at <www.transunion.com>, <www.experian.com>, and <www.equifax.com>. Follow these instructions exactly. Don’t leave anything out. You will be sending three separate letters with copies of personal information such as your state identification card, your Social Security card, a recent utility bill, etc. Take these three mailings to the post office to mail along with a check for $10 to each bureau. I suggest using certified mail, return receipt requested. For a one-time charge of $30, nobody can take out new credit in your name. If you wish to establish a new credit line, you will need to pay from $10 to $30 to thaw your credit freeze temporarily.

The credit-freeze process is the single most effective way to stop identity theft. Widely advertised identity protection services, such as Trusted ID and Life Lock, cost up to $150 a year and are far less effective than the credit freeze.

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