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Ways to Help Ensure No One but You Gets Credit in Your Name

August 25, 1996|From Associated Press

Consumer groups, regulators and industry representatives provided suggestions for combating identity fraud last week as the Federal Trade Commission convened a conference to look into what many believe is the latest credit fraud epidemic.

"I think it's fair to say that identity fraud goes to the very heart of the issue of personal privacy. It involves the theft, the misuse, the destruction of an individual's good name and reputation," Commissioner Janet Steiger said. "The case studies we see are, frankly, frightening."

Several ideas for combating or preventing the problem were presented at the meeting. The FTC promises more study.

The tips for consumers:

* Minimize the amount of personal information a thief can steal. Don't carry extra credit cards or a Social Security card, birth certificate or passport.

* Keep a list of all credit cards, account numbers and expiration dates so you can contact creditors quickly.

* Never give a card number or other information over the phone unless you initiated the call.

* Do not print your Social Security number on your checks or give it out unless necessary. If someone asks for it and you don't know why it would be necessary, ask.

* Check your credit report for accuracy once a year. TRW Information Systems & Services provides one free copy per consumer each year. The two other big credit bureaus, Equifax and Trans Union, charge $8 per copy to Californians. (Some other states regulate the costs, requiring free or lower-cost copies.) To reach TRW call (800) 392-1122; for Equifax, (800) 685-1111; for Trans Union, (800) 851-2674.

Among the suggestions for credit reporting companies and retailers?

* Do not issue a credit report unless a consumer authorizes it.

* Notify consumers when their credit reports have been accessed.

* Ask consumers for identification when they use credit cards.

* Create a standard form for consumers to report credit fraud.

* Have credit bureaus take victims' credit histories out of the electronic system, forcing any subsequent issuers of credit to do more to verify who is applying for credit under that person's name.

* Develop systems that identify consumers by an inkless fingerprint.

However, most of these latter suggestions were criticized by the credit card companies, credit bureaus and retailers that would have to implement them. For example, asking for identification during the sale could upset legitimate customers, said Marianne Birarelli, regional fraud director for Sears, Roebuck & Co. "A lot of customers aren't pleased or are embarrassed if they're asked to show ID."

Most of the suggestions would create expense for someone in the industry, and an agreement will not be easy, said David Medine, who ran the FTC conference.

But companies will do it because "they suffer huge losses," he said. "It's costing them money to not address these issues."

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