Friday, June 13, 2008
of Social Security Numbers to Protect Consumers From Identity Theft
San Francisco, CA – Governor Sarah Palin signed legislation today that will help protect Alaskans against identity theft, including tough new restrictions on the collection, disclosure and sale of Social Security numbers. Social Security numbers are particularly sensitive information because they are the key information that crooks can use them to commit identity theft.
“The widespread collection and use of Social Security numbers by businesses and government agencies has put Americans at higher risk for identity theft,” said Gail Hillebrand, Director of Consumers Union’s Financial Privacy Now campaign. “Alaska’s new law provides the toughest Social Security number protections in the country. By reducing the collection and sale of Social Security numbers, this new law will help prevent this sensitive information from falling into the hands of crooks.”
Alaska’s HB 65 restricts the request, collection, sale, and sharing of Social Security numbers by both private parties and government agencies. The new law contains limited exceptions for specific purposes such as for insurance, medical services, fraud prevention, law enforcement, or when the use of Social Security numbers is required by law. By limiting the circulation of Social Security numbers in multiple areas, Alaska’s new law aims to reduce the risk that the information will be used to commit identity theft. More information on current state restrictions on Social Security number use can be found at: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_financial_services/004801.html
A 2007 Consumer Reports National Research Center poll revealed that 87 percent of Americans have been asked in the previous year to provide their Social Security number in whole or in part by a business or government agency. Requests come from a wide variety of businesses for purposes beyond credit, employment, or tax compliance. Many requests come from businesses that have no clear need to collect these numbers.
HB 65 also gives consumers the right to freeze or lock access to their credit files against anyone trying to open up a new account for credit or services in their name. When a security freeze is in place at all three major credit bureaus, an identity thief cannot open a new account because the potential creditor or seller of services will not be able to check the credit file. When the rightful consumer is applying for credit, he or she can lift the freeze temporarily using a PIN so legitimate applications for credit or services can be processed. More information about the security freeze for Alaska and other states can be found at:
Alaska’s new law, which passed with bipartisan support, contains other protections aimed at reducing identity theft, including a requirement that businesses notify consumers of data security breaches, a new court procedure to enable victims of identity theft to remove criminal charges from their records that stem from the conduct of the identify thief, and rules for how sensitive information must be treated when it is discarded.
Gail Hillebrand – 415-431-6747