Friday, September 15, 2006

Current credit freeze policy leaves me a little cold

This week, I attended the Washington State Credit Union League Conference at the Doubletree near SeaTac Airport. It was a good opportunity to get out of the office, mingle with other Washington credit union colleagues and listen to a few speakers talking about everything from multi-factor authentication (THAT is a blog posting topic in itself) to the social web (blogs, podcasts, RSS). One of the keynote presentations featured Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna who discussed Identity Theft, how credit unions have been a great help in educating their members about it and what his office is doing to help strengthen Identity Theft laws and protections for consumers.

No one is safe from being a victim. He shared stories of how a single working mom found out her identity was stolen after receiving a call from a dealership asking why they hadn't received payment for the new car she didn't know she had. Or, the Seattle businessman who found out that someone was claiming to work at his business in order to open lines of credit at several big box retail establishments. It was disheartening to hear that some of these retailers didn't bother to call and verify that the guy actually worked at the business. If a retailer did bother to call, the guy would walk out of the store and that was it-- no one reported what he tried to pull, leaving him to continue his fraud spree.

They eventually found the guy. He wasn't a very bright criminal, apparently. He used his own driver's license for ID and he was video taped. They found him at his home, which was filled with office equipment. He was selling the items online to support his meth addiction.

These stories were interesting, but the most compelling topic for me centered around the fact that a consumer cannot freeze their credit information unless they are a victim of identity theft.

A credit or security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors or insurance companies. You, too, will not be able to open new credit while a freeze is in place. Individuals can request that a freeze be temporarily lifted for the purpose of obtaining new credit. You can read more about it on the Washington State Attorney's website.

One would think, then, if you weren't going to be buying a house or applying for a credit card anytime soon, you could put a security freeze on your information as a preventative measure. But current law states that you have to be a victim first. To paraphrase the example the attorney general made, it's like having a law that says you cannot purchase locks for the doors of your home until you are burglarized.

I hope that this law is changed soon, for everyone's sake. Identity Theft one of the fastest growing types happening nowadays. Washington ranks 7th in the nation for Identity Theft.

Until then, I'm going to continue to practice what the ID theft prevention pros preach. I'm going to get stop those pre-approved credit offers. I'm going to keep shredding my documents. I'm going to delete phishing emails and not click on any links I am unsure about. I'm checking my credit report annually. While there's no such thing as 100% protection against ID theft and fraud, I can at least make my information harder to get and fly under the radar of those potential ID thieves.

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