Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Halting 'Identity Theft' in Era of Internet Access Bill Would Limit Availability of Personal Data

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Halting 'Identity Theft' in Era of Internet Access Bill Would Limit Availability of Personal Data

Article excerpt

It's called "identity theft."

Criminals get hold of information about an individual - Social Security number, mother's maiden name, old addresses, credit history - and use it to make charges against credit cards, access bank records, or steal government checks.

It happened to Mari Frank, a lawyer in Laguna Niguel, Calif. A woman fed Ms. Frank's name and Social Security number to a New York bank, got a credit card, and charged $11,000 in her name. The woman also took out a $15,000 line of credit at Frank's bank and bought a red Ford Mustang. Frank only learned of the fraud when the New York bank called for payment. "It was shock. It was panic. It was technology rape. It was financial rape," she told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Crooks get information about people in many ways. But one way causing alarm on Capitol Hill and elsewhere is misuse of the Internet, where far more personal information is available than many people realize. Currently, companies and individuals can collect and distribute personal information with little regulation. But with the increased availability of such data over the Internet and the spread of electronic mail, such information can be widely shared and easily obtained by anyone, leaving individuals increasingly vulnerable. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California decided to find out what information was available about her - and was startled by what she learned. "My staff was able to retrieve my own Social Security number and other personal information from a commercial database in less than three minutes," she says. That experience, along with complaints from constituents, led her to introduce a bill to curb the distribution of Social Security numbers, unlisted telephone numbers, and other personal information. Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, cosponsor of the bill, adds that it takes "minimal information and a few keystrokes" to retrieve a "lifetime" of credit history and other personal information. "For this reason, it is important that we work to make sure some personal information stays out of the hands of people we have never met, whose intentions we don't know," he says. …

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