Action taken to combat identity theft

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(Host) There’s action being taken at both the state and federal level to help consumers combat identity theft. A new Vermont law allows individuals to freeze their credit reports. Meanwhile, proposed legislation in Congress increases penalties for people convicted of identity theft.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) By most accounts, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Perpetrators of the crime steal a consumer’s credit information and quickly open new accounts. In a short period of time they can purchase merchandise and even obtain mortgages. Consumers don’t usually find out about these crimes until creditors come knocking at their doors demanding payment for the purchases.

A new Vermont law gives consumers a tool to fight identity theft. It allows individuals to freeze their credit reports making it impossible for anyone else to establish new credit accounts under false pretenses. Attorney General Bill Sorrell:

(Sorrell) “If a thief can get a hold of your identity and stand in your shoes and use your access to credit, they don’t have to worry about lugging around a stereo and selling it on the street for 5 cents on the dollar. It’s dollar for dollar, all electronic, very slick, very hard to prove, very hard to catch them, put them out of business. So consumers really have to be very protective of their personal information.”

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy introduced legislation last week, with Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Spector that fights identity theft in two ways. The first is to raise penalties for this crime.

(Leahy) “We have no problem in putting penalties on people who rob banks or steal your wallet. Why don’t have anywhere near adequate penalties if they steal your identity or if they go in and steal hundreds of thousands of people’s identity?”

(Kinzel) The bill also requires large credit companies to implement new steps to protect personal information, including Social Security numbers. Recently it was disclosed that the personal financial information of forty million Americans was potentially revealed by a company that provides services to Visa and MasterCard:

(Leahy) “If they’ve got your Social Security number in a digital age they’ve got a key to your house, your business, your wallet, your whole life. And that’s what we have to stop. And also, we have to ask ourselves the question as a nation: ‘why are we storing so much personal information on people?’ I think we store far far too much today. We ought to be taking steps to reverse that.”

(Kinzel) Attorney General Sorrell says he encourages Vermonters to review their credit report if they think they may be a victim of identity theft. Vermont law allows consumers to request a report from each credit agency, without charge, once a year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

Related link:
ID theft information from the Attorney General

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