Thu 20 Dec 2007
“Simply by being compelled to keep constantly on his guard, a man may grow so weak as to be unable any longer to defend himself.” — Nietzsche
If bill payments were among the letters this motorist mailed yesterday along Lucas Valley Road, he was risking identity theft, Assemblyman Jared Huffman warns.
A few weeks back Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who represents Marin County and Southern Sonoma County, sent his constituents a flier titled: “Identity Theft… How to Protect Your Privacy.” If I thought Huffman had authored it himself, I would worry that West Marin’s assemblyman suffers from acute paranoia.
In a section called “How to Reduce Your Risk,” Huffman’s flier’ advises, “Personal information that you should protect include your home address, home telephone number….
“When you pay bills, mail them at a US Postoffice. Do not leave them at your home mailbox, your workplace’s outbox, or even your neighborhood Postal Service mailbox. Neighborhood mailboxes can be burglarized.”
Wow! Our assemblyman (right) is warning Marin County and Southern Sonoma County residents that their street-corner mailboxes are too insecure to be trusted with a PG&E payment. What’s more, he’s saying, people should keep their names and addresses out of the phone book if they want to be safe.
Apparently, thieves have become as thick as they’re said to be. “Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the nation,” Huffman’s flier warns. “Do not carry your… passport… or extra credit cards in your purse or wallet.” Wait a minute! Even in the world’s crime capitals such as Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa, we’re expected to carry passports and credit cards. But it’s too risky to do so in Marin County, Petaluma, and Rohnert Park?
The reason I doubt Huffman authored this fear-mongering is a couple of telltale items in the flier. Immediately below the assemblyman’s name and return address on the cover is an odd offer to be coming from a legislator: “Free Credit Report. See inside for details.” Inside the flier, residents are advised to “report [identity] fraud to the three major credit bureaus.”
As can be seen in the unfolded flier above, addresses and phone numbers are given for reporting fraud to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and also for ordering credit reports from them. That the flier was mailed at taxpayer expense is obvious, but why my copy was also addressed to my former wife, who lives in Guatemala and is not a US citizen, is something of a mystery.
Two weeks after receiving Huffman’s warnings, I received yet another, this one from the CPA who prepares my income taxes. “We are contacting you about a potential problem involving identity theft,” the CPA’s letter began. “Our office was burglarized. No client files were stolen, but our computer server and a locked briefcase (which appeared to, but did not, hold a laptop computer) were stolen…. We advise that you file a Fraud Alert on your social security numbers by Calling TransUnion Credit Bureau at 800 680-7289.
Why, that was also the phone number on Huffman’s flier, so I called it and requested a Fraud Alert be placed on my Social Security number (should anyone else try to use it to open a credit account). TransUnion said I didn’t need to notify the other two credit bureaus. It would do it for me. I subsequently received a letter from TransUnion asking me to send verification that I am who I say I am. It also offered me a free credit report and — for only $7.95 — a look at my “credit score.”
Okay, so the rest was a come-on to sell $8 credit scores. No wonder the credit bureaus’ fingerprints are all over Huffman’s flier. But no big deal either. Caveat emptor and all that.
What seems more telling is the choice of documents that TransUnion lists as acceptable for verifying a person’s address: a “utility bill, signed lease, canceled check, signed homeless-shelter letter, stamped postoffice-box receipt, prison ID.”
Homeless-shelter letter? Prison ID? It sounds as if credit bureaus hope to see even our street people and San Quentin inmates worried about their credit rating.