PRC's Privacy Update No. 3, Iss. 2
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Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
In this issue . . .
Data aggregators compile in-depth dossiers of personal information on almost everyone. Even though you may not have heard of these companies, have never had an account with them, nor have given them permission to collect your personal information – they are likely to have a dossier on you. ChoicePoint is one of the largest of the data aggregators. With recent news that identity thieves opened 50 bogus accounts to access at least 145,000 individuals’ data profiles, many people are just realizing that companies like ChoicePoint exist.
Consumers wonder how data aggregators like ChoicePoint get their personal information and what they have on file. ChoicePoint compiles data from many sources including public records (court records, property tax assessor files, professional licenses, vehicle registration, bankruptcy records, and so on), along with credit reports, and consumer demographic and lifestyle data. Many consumers are aware of credit reports, but most people do not know that ChoicePoint offers other types of consumer reports – employment background checks, tenant rental history, and insurance claims.
In fact, consumers nationwide can get a free copy of these reports sold by ChoicePoint if a prospective employer, landlord or insurer used ChoicePoint’s services for screening purposes. So, if you are wondering what kind of information ChoicePoint has about you, now’s a good opportunity to find out.
We have more information about how to do so on our website at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/CPResponse.htm.
See also the PRC’s Fact Sheet 6(b): The “Other” Consumer Reports: What You Should Know about “Specialty” Reports at http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs6b-SpecReports.htm
And Fact Sheet 11: From Cradle to Grave: Government Records and Your Privacy at http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs11-pub.htm
Since the ChoicePoint announcement, news about data breaches and information heists have become almost a daily occurrence.
-- Bank of America came clean that back-up data tapes containing personal information and account numbers of 1.2 million Americans including federal employees (and members of Congress) went missing.
-- NY Senator Schumer blasted WestLaw for selling Social Security numbers to those who purchase access to its extensive databases of personal information.
-- LexisNexis, another data aggregator similar to ChoicePoint and WestLaw, announced that thieves accessed personal information of 32,000 consumers of its Seisint division by misusing existing passwords of a legitimate account holder.
-- Discount Shoe Warehouse disclosed that 103 of its 175 stores had customers’ credit and debit card information hacked.
-- Paymaxx, an online payroll management company, may have exposed financial data including W-2 forms of as many as 100,000 workers.
If you received a notice indicating your personal information was a part of these snafus, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact us using our online inquiry form [Jan. 2007: The PRC's online inquiry form is now inactive].
In response to all this, Congress is considering legislation and has announced investigative hearings in hopes of rectifying this serious problem. To set federal standards for protecting sensitive personal data from identity thieves and to provide additional safeguards for consumers, Congress needs to hear from you. To locate your elected members of the House of Representatives, go to http://www.house.gov/writerep/. For your state's Senators, go to http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/ senators_cfm.cfm.
The PRC and other privacy advocates have noted key federal legislation that needs to be passed to protect you and others from identity theft and recent rash of data breaches at http://www.privacyrights.org/Media/CPBofAResponsePR.htm.
Companies like ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and WestLaw aren’t the only ones that sell personal information from public and non-public sources. There are numerous data vendors that sell personal information on the Internet. Unfortunately, because public records are just that – public – these companies offer little to no opportunities to remove one’s personal information from such sites. However, some information brokers do provide privacy policies that allow consumers to opt out of having non-public information available (at least, until they get their next download of data). And in fact PRC provides information on how to opt out with numerous data vendors at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/infobrokers.htm.
We first noted the ability to opt-out with genealogy web site MyFamily.com in our August 2004 email newsletter available online at http://www.privacyrights.org/newsletter/040809.htm#040809-1.
We first posted the opt-out list noted above in our January newsletter available at http://www.privacyrights.org/newsletter/050126.htm.
Since then we’ve received numerous complaints about opt-out requests that are being ignored. In some instances, consumers have made their requests more than three times, to no avail. We have received numerous complaints for MyFamily.com, PeopleData.com, and Intelius.com.
In light of the ChoicePoint–LexisNexis-WestLaw–BofA incidents noted above, it’s understandable that people would want to minimize access to their personal information through such sites. If you use our opt-out listing and your request is not honored, please let us know. Both LexisNexis and WestLaw provide an opt-out option, though ChoicePoint and its subsidiaries KnowX.com and Rapsheets.com do not.
California Governor Schwarzenegger, the CA Dept. of Consumer Affairs, and the CA District Attorneys’ Association, sponsored the Identity Theft Summit held in Sacramento on March 1, 2005.
PRC Director, Beth Givens, was a guest speaker at the event and presented her speech, Criminal Identity Theft in California: Seeking Solutions to the “Worst Case Scenario”.
The speech discusses the California criminal identity theft registry which allows those whose information has been given to an arresting officer by somebody else and who ultimately has a rap sheet in their name, to prove there is a mistake. Often, this situation arises when a victim of criminal identity theft is arrested or detained by a police officer or when a prospective employer, when conducting a background check, finds arrests or convictions under the applicant’s name.
Givens’ speech suggests enhanced penalties for those who perpetrate criminal identity theft, more education to those in the justice system about the state’s registry, and research into both how criminal identity theft is perpetrated and the process for signing up for California’s Criminal Identity Theft Registry.
PRC Director Beth Givens’ speech is available on the PRC web site at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/CASummit-CrimIT.htm
For more information about criminal identity theft see the following PRC resources:
PRC Fact Sheet 17(g): Criminal Identity Theft: What to Do if It Happens to You at
Speech by Beth Givens, Identity Theft: The Growing Problem of Wrongful Criminal Records at
Adding to our list of fact sheets available in Spanish, the PRC recently posted a translation of Fact Sheet 29: Privacy in Education: A Guide for Parents and Adult-Age Students.
This guide is available in English at http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs29-education.htm
The guide in Spanish, Página Informativa 29: La confidencialidad y la educación: Una guía para padres de familia y estudiantes adultos is available on the PRC’s web site at
For additional fact sheets in Spanish, see our Páginas Informativa web page at http://www.privacyrights.org/spanish/paginasinformativas.htm.
We have recently added links to additional consumer-related Spanish-language consumer guides available from other web sites. If you have a link you would like to suggest we add to this list, please let us know using our inquiry form at https://secure.privacyrights.org/qwertyuiopasdfghjkl.php
A new federal law, known as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, or FACTA, was adopted by Congress in 2003 and gives consumers nationwide the right to receive a free copy of their credit report. The law is being phased in through the U.S., starting on the West Coast on December 1, 2004. Now individuals living in the Midwest can receive their reports as of March 1, 2005. By September 1, 2005, consumers east of the Midwest region will get the same right as the law is rolled out across the country.
Starting March 1, consumers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin are entitled to one free copy of their credit report annually from each of the nationwide credit bureaus.
With access to credit reports free of charge, individuals can more readily monitor reports to learn if they are victims of identity theft or if their credit reports contain errors. Often, errors on a credit report cause consumers to pay higher interest rates for credit. A recent survey by US PIRG found a high degree of inaccuracies in credit reports: http://uspirg.org/uspirgnewsroom.asp?id2=13650&id3=USPIRGnewsroom&
Consumers can request their free credit reports through a web site, https://www.annualcreditreport.com, by calling toll-free 877-322-8228, or by filling out and mailing in the Annual Credit Report Request form available at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/requestformfinal.pdf.
The PRC suggests that consumers stagger their free reports over the course of a year by ordering one report every four months. Thus, consumers can monitor their credit throughout the year to alert them to possible identity theft.
For more information about free credit reports in the Midwest see:
A note of caution: The World Privacy Forum (WPF) issued a report recently about the possible perils of ordering your credit report online, including paying additional money for unnecessary products and services being pitched by the credit bureaus. For the WPF’s study, Call Don't Click: Why It's Smarter To Order Your Federally Mandated Free Credit Reports Via Telephone, Not the Internet see: http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/calldontclick.html
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