MINNESOTANS GET NEW TOOL TO FIGHT ID THEFT
Leslie Brooks Suzukamo, Pioneer Press
May 31, 2006

Minnesotans will have a new weapon to protect themselves against the fast-growing crime of identity theft, thanks to a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

HOW IT WORKS

Beginning Aug. 1, Minnesotans can stop credit bureaus from releasing their personal financial information without their permission by requesting a "security freeze" be placed on their names.

A freeze prevents identity thieves from using stolen information to open new financial accounts. Often, victims don't know their identity has been stolen until banks and creditors start hounding them about unpaid bills.

If an individual wants to share "frozen" information with a bank, credit-card company or store, the person can "thaw" it by contacting the credit bureau. The law says credit bureaus can take no longer than three days to thaw an account and should make it a goal to do so within 15 minutes to allow consumers to take advantage of in-store instant credit offers.

HOW TO ORDER A FREEZE OR A CREDIT REPORT

For most Minnesotans, it will cost $5 to freeze their information by calling each of the three major credit bureaus and $5 each time the information is thawed or the freeze is removed altogether. However, victims of identity theft who have reported the crime to police can get a freeze for free.

THE CREDIT BUREAUS

EQUIFAX

www.equifax.com

To order a credit report or a freeze: 800-685-1111

To report fraud: 800-525-6285

EXPERIAN

www.experian.com

To order a credit report or a freeze: 888-397-3742

To report fraud: 888-397-3742

TRANSUNION

www.transunion.com

To order a credit report or a freeze: 800-888-4213

To report fraud: 800-680-7289

Millions affected by ID theft

HOW BAD IS ID THEFT?

-- The Federal Trade Commission estimated that 10 million Americans -- or about one in 30 -- had their identities stolen in 2002.

-- More than 82 million accounts containing personal information have been compromised in database breaches since February 2005, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy organization based in San Diego.

-- Preventing or covering the losses from the personal data of 26.5 million veterans that was stolen last month, might end up costing taxpayers up to $500 million, U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson told a House committee last week.

TO PREVENT ID THEFT

-- Never give out your Social Security number or personal information of any kind over the telephone or online unless you have initiated the contact.

-- When you pay bills, don't leave them in an open mail slot. Use a locked mailbox or the post office.

-- Shred bank and credit-card statements, canceled checks, pre-approved credit-card offers and bills with account information. Monitor bank accounts frequently for suspicious activity.

-- Be careful at ATMs so people can't see your personal identification number while looking over your shoulder.

-- Check your credit reports at least once a year. You can go request a credit report three ways: online at www.annualcreditreport.com, by calling 1-877-322-8228, or by mail at: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

Source: AARP Minnesota

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: www.privacyrights.org or call 619-298-3396

Identity Theft Resource Center: www.idtheftcenter.org or call 858-693-7935

AARP: www.aarp.org or call 1-866-554-5381

2006 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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