Friday, November 20, 2009

A Small Victory for Identity Theft Victims

Choice Point also known as National Safety Alliance Corporation or Equi Search Services is a data collection company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Choice Point merged with LexisNexis Risk Solutions in the fall of 2008.

Choice Point combines personal data obtained from various public and private databases and sales the information to the government and the private sector industries. The company maintains over 17 billion records for individuals and businesses. It sells the data to approximately 100,000 clients which include 7,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The company stores consumer transactions that are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which includes: insurance underwriting services, tenant screening, pre-employment screening, consumer record reporting and title insurance finances.

The company also provides marketing services, contracts with local and federal law enforcement agencies, data and authentication solutions, litigation and debt collection support to law firms, software and technology services and databases of personal information which contain names, addresses, SSN's, credit reports, and other personal information.

In 2000, the State of Pennsylvania terminated a contract with ChoicePoint, claiming that the company illegally sold consumers' personal information. ChoicePoint paid $1.37 million fine. In 2002, another identity theft scam resulted in $1 million in fraud. In 2005, a security breach was identified when identify thieves stole personal information of approximately 163,000 Americans. The company claimed that it would stop selling personal consumer information including SSN and driver's license number except for matters related to law enforcement.

Congress members rebuked the company for the security breaches. The company eventually reached an agreement with approximately 20 state attorneys general to notify individuals in the affected states that their data had been stolen. In January 2006 ChoicePoint was fined $15 million by the FTC, $10 million in civil penalties and another $5 million to compensate victims of the security breach. ChoicePoint was also required to implement better secure measures to protect personal information.

In 2008, the company turned off a key electronic security tool used to monitor access to one of its database and it took four months to detect the tool was turned off. The incident violated the 2006 court order maintaining that the company institute a comprehensive security program to protect consumer information. The FTC modified the court order and the company now has to report to the FTC every 2 months for the next two years on how consumer information is protected. Here are 5 tips to help ensure your personal information is protected.

1. Write your congressman and demand stronger security measures to protect consumer information and force companies to help consumers quicker when they become victims of identity theft.

2. Get a copy of your credit report from at least once a year and review each line to ensure all information is correct. Dispute any errors and provide any supporting documentation.

3. Limit the amount of information you provide. Don't enter or store your personal information on your cell phones, PDA's, or in an unsecure place such as work, your purse or wallet. Don't enter your personal information in contests or on the internet.

4. When doing business with a company ask questions about their security measures and ask what measures are in place if a security breach occurs.

5. If you become a victim of identity theft due to a company security breach, consider closing your account and take your business to another company.

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