Sunday, June 04, 2006

Piling On

It’s not bad enough some hooplehead (don’t forget: at Veterans’ Affairs lost my (and possibly your) personal information; the credit reporting agencies have to pile on, too.

Yours truly recently requested a fraud alert to be placed on my account at the three credit reporting agencies. Instructions indicated that I only had to inform one, and the others would be notified and would comply.

I called TransUnion. They had an easy, automated, phone system for taking my information as securely as could be expected, and the alert took effect earlier this week. Experian notified me of their compliance a couple of days later.

Yesterday I received word from Equifax that I had to send them much the same information as was “misplaced,” except in a more current form. They wanted photocopies sent to a Post Office box.

This makes me feel much better. This is private information, the disclosure of which prompted the fraud alert in the first place. I feel a whole lot better dropping it into a computer system than leaving it in a batch where some minimum wage-earning cracker (they’re in Atlanta) can slip it out of the pile and sell it for a hundred bucks.

Here’s the real problem: they’re The Man. They have me (you, us) by the short hairs. Our private, personal information is now their property. They may do with it pretty much as they want; our wishes and intents don’t matter.

If this bothers you as much as it bothers me, all I can think of to do is get The Other Man involved: the government. (I almost wrote The Bigger Man, but then I remembered who really runs things in Washington.) Below is a copy of the letter I just emailed to my representative and both senator. Feel free to borrow from it if you wish.


I am one of the veterans affected by the recent loss of records by a VA employee. I immediately contacted TransUnion to place a fraud alert on my credit history. They had a special phone line set up to accommodate the high volume of calls expected. The process was quick, relatively painless, and fully automated, which relieved some of my worries about passing along private and potentially sensitive information. The web site I checked, and the TransUnion phone message, indicated that the other two major credit reporting agencies would be informed, and that fraud alerts would be placed at both of those locations.

Yesterday I received in the mail a notice from Equifax, informing me they would not place a fraud alert on my account until I provided photocopies of the following:

  1. Social Security Card, W-2 form, or current pay stub with Social Security Number.
  2. Driver’s License, State Identification Card, Utility Bill, or Lease Agreement with current address.

I’m asking for the fraud alert because personal information (such as my Social Security number) may have been obtained by parties unknown; Equifax now wants me to send the same information through to a Post Office box so they can “assure” me some minimal level of protection from someone else using it. This borders on the surreal.

There’s no practical way to live in contemporary society without access to credit, so the credit agencies are a necessary evil. Why they are allowed to grant requests as to individuals’ personal information, without informing that individual, has always been a mystery to me. (It seems all the vaunted privacy protections we have in this county are primarily intended to protect out personal information from ourselves. Credit agencies are under no obligation to inform us of irregular activity; my medical records belong to my doctor, not to me.) To create an additional potential security hole to an already extraordinary situation only adds insult to injury.

This is a relatively trivial matter when compared to the suffering of those veterans who are currently returning from Iraq less than whole. Still, millions of veterans who have served their country well and honorably have had their financial lives jeopardized through no fault of their own, and no one seems to want to do anything about it.

I’m just one individual, and I expect I’ll complain abut, but will comply with, the Equifax request. What I’m asking is that you use your considerable authority and respect in the Senate {House} to see to it that all those affected are protected as well as they can be.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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