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: James Dimmitt
What do a shoe retailer, an online discount broker, and a popular clothing retailer all have in common? All three – DSW Shoe Warehouse, Ameritrade, and Polo Ralph Lauren – sustained breaches to their customers’ accounts. Unfortunately, these three are not alone when it comes to security breaches. CitiFinancial, Bank of America, LexisNexis and other companies have also experienced similar events.
Over 46 million Americans have had personal records containing credit card numbers, bank account information, and social security numbers lost or stolen during the first six months of 2005.
Having even just one piece of personal information is sometimes all that an identity thief needs in order to wreak havoc to your credit profile. Many people falsely believe that an ID thief uses only the stolen credit cards to go on their shopping sprees. The truth is ID thieves use your stolen information to open new accounts for credit, cars, loans, mobile phones and more. Most victims won’t know there’s a problem until they’ve been turned down for credit or begin receiving calls from creditors and collection agencies about the unpaid bills.
So, what can you do to guard your identity from criminals? Along with vigorously protecting your social security number, using a shredder to destroy credit card offers, and monitoring your credit report regularly, you may also be able to use a new line of defense against ID thieves – placing a “freeze” on your credit files.
Placing a freeze on your credit files with the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – shuts out potential lenders from accessing your credit files in order to make you an offer for credit. When applying for new credit accounts or loans, you would use a special password or PIN to “thaw” your credit files, a process that takes a few days. The credit bureaus charge around $10 for each freeze or thaw as allowed by law.
A credit freeze protects your data since the lender can’t check your profile in order to approve any new credit. Unfortunately, credit freezes are currently available only to consumers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.
Congress is examining laws to make credit freezes available nationwide, however they are facing some strong opposition. And guess where it’s coming from? The credit bureaus and data clearinghouses! They make money every time they sell your information to banks, mortgage brokers, car dealerships and other retailers.
The time to act is NOW. If you live in a state that doesn’t offer you, the consumer, the right to freeze your credit files, contact your state legislators to let them know that YOU WANT TO CONTROL who can access your personal and financial data. Names and contact information for your Senators and Representatives can be found at http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov. Write or e-mail them and tell them you want control of your personal data. After all, it’s your identity and your finances at stake!