What the Postal Service and the FTC didn’t say about ID theft


We support reforms to the financial marketplace that protect consumers from unscrupulous banks and lenders.

By Consumers Union on Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Money Mom and many of her colleagues at Consumers Union got a brochure in the mail this past week from the Postal Service warning about identity theft. The brochure is from the Federal Trade Commission and tells consumers how to “Deter, Detect and Defend” themselves from identity thieves… with one glaring oversight: no information on how to place a security freeze.

Every consumer in the country has the ability to place a “security freeze” on their consumer reporting files at each of the big three consumer reporting agencies. Read Consumers Union’s FAQ about the freeze at: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_financial_services/005081.html.

Thirty nine states have laws providing for the security freeze, and last Fall all three credit bureaus finally offered all consumers nationwide the same opportunity. The “security freeze” can be used to stop identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in your name. It works like this: you request the freeze and pay a fee, usually $10 or less if your state law provides for a lower fee; the consumer reporting agency freezes access to your credit report and credit score for those trying to open new accounts, and sends you a PIN to use when you want to reopen your credit file to use it yourself. Check out the rules in your state at: http://www.consumersunion.org/campaigns/learn_more/003484indiv.html

The Federal Trade Commission tells consumers about the security freeze in their online materials, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/credit-freeze.html, but not in the current online version of its “Deter, Detect and Defend brochure, and not in the paper brochure just mailed to Californians and perhaps to others. The FTC missed the boat in not revising this brochure to tell all of us about the security freeze before this Postal Service mailing on stopping identity theft.

A mailing to a large number of postal customers would have been an effective way to tell people about this new way to stop new account identity theft.

Kudos to the U.S. Postal Service for trying to education consumers on identity theft and the FTC for telling consumers about the security freeze on their website. Too bad the FTC seems to have given the Postal Service an ID theft brochure that leaves out any information on the newest and strongest protection that consumers have for avoiding new account ID theft.

To help you think about whether the security freeze is right for you, see: http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/SecurityFreeze-Consider.pdf

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