Identity Theft: How It Happens, Its Impact on Victims, and Legislative Solutions

I appreciate the ability to provide written and oral testimony on the skyrocketing crime of identity theft, its impact on victims, and possible solutions. And I commend you and the Subcommittee members for addressing this issue. My written testimony is in four parts:

  • Topic number one is the crime itself - what is identity theft, how much of it is going on, and why it is happening in epidemic proportions.

  • Second, I will discuss the many ways in which identity thieves obtain the bits and pieces of information they need to impersonate others -- mainly Social Security numbers (SSN) and credit card account numbers.

  • Third, I will explain some of the impacts on victims.

  • And fourth, I will recommend legislative and industry measures to prevent identity theft and to expedite the ability of victims to regain their financial health.

Comments of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Utility Consumers' Action Network on Proposed Privacy of Consumer Financial Information Regulations (Gramm-Leach Bliley Act)

As our experiences demonstrate, even information sharing among affiliates can be harmful unless consumers receive affirmative notice of the nature of the business that received the information in addition to the nature of the product being marketed. We welcome those provisions in the proposed regulations that require financial institutions to identify the types of businesses engaged in by affiliates and unaffiliated third parties to whom they disclose confidential data. However, we believe that the G-L-B Act and the proposed regulations do not go far enough in protecting unwary consumers from direct marketing by affiliates who may sell products that are more risky than those offered by the financial institution the consumers do business with. The inability of consumers to "opt-out" of data sharing among affiliates exposes consumers to the kinds of marketing abuses suffered by our three elderly UCAN members.

Financial Privacy: The Shortcomings of the Federal Financial Services Modernization Act

The new federal law, the Financial Services Modernization Act, enables three industries to affiliate under one corporate roof -- banking, insurance, and securities. The Act requires that banks and financial services provide an "opt-out" for customers to restrict the sale of personal information to third parties. But it gives no ability for customers to restrict the sharing of data between and among affiliates.

Privacy Expectations in a High Tech World

Now, we're experiencing the explosion of commerce on the Internet. Web sites are able to capture data from their visitors, and to merge that data with other information. With the exception of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and a smattering of state laws regulating spam, or unsolicited electronic mail, there is little regulation of data collection on the Net.

So, what are consumers' experiences on the Net concerning their privacy? I will list several themes that I've observed in talking to consumers and in following news stories about online privacy abuses in recent months.

Bankruptcy, Public Records and Privacy

The PRC and EFF recognize the long-standing principle that the public interest is served by open court proceedings, and that, in fact, public disclosure of bankruptcy proceedings is mandated by statute. However, we can conceive of no public interest to be served in a system that would readily subject individuals in bankruptcy to identity thieves and unscrupulous marketing. Access to an individual's personal information is obviously required in order for court personnel and bankruptcy trustees to do their jobs. But, access beyond this necessity to Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and other personal information on the Internet would seem to be an invitation for abuse.

Why I stopped shopping at Amazon.com: A reading expert sounds off... (Hochhauser)

I've shopped at Amazon.com for several years. But I decided to quit shopping there because of:

1) Their new privacy notice. The revised notice (not a "policy") states that they gather information about consumers every time they search for a product.  That means to me that they've developed a profile on me based not only on what I buy, but what I'm looking for. I don't want them to know that much about me....

Privacy Rights of Employees Using Workplace Computers In California

Employers and employees are concerned about computers in the workplace.  Employers worry that employees waste time, such as by chatting or shopping on-line.[1]  Employers worry too that employees create liability by viewing and circulating pornographic, racist, or other improper material.

 Employees worry about their privacy.  Software, like Specter, SurfWatch, Eblaster, Telemate, Message Inspector, Silent Watch, Websense, Little Brother, and WinWhatWhere, allows the computer owner to monitor computer use. [2]  Some software allows the owner to check users' e-mail and Web destinations; some also allows viewing of entire e-mail messages, Web images, and word processing documents.  Moreover, most of this software can be installed without alerting the computer user. [3]

 The press has reported that employees have no privacy rights whatsoever when using their employers' computers and that employers can spy at will. [4]

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