Attorney General’s office backs identity theft laws

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(Host) The issue of identity theft came up in the Statehouse on Thursday as lawmakers discussed how to react to a massive breach of consumer financial data. The ChoicePoint credit reporting agency says 111 Vermonters are among the thousands of people whose information was distributed to scam artists. The Attorney General’s office says Vermont law should require companies like ChoicePoint to tell consumers if their personal data was stolen or compromised.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The ChoicePoint case has led to nationwide concern about identity theft. The Georgia-based company collects credit histories and personal financial data. But it suffered a huge security breach when people posing as legitimate businesses obtained the confidential information.

(Julie Brill) “Credit files were provided to the scam artists.”

(Dillon) Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill came to the House Commerce Committee to discuss the state’s response. Vermont consumers were among the 144,000 people whose financial data and social security numbers were released. That puts them at risk of identity theft, since criminals could use the information to obtain credit cards. The state doesn’t know yet if any of the 111 Vermonters have been victimized.

Brill says ChoicePoint has agreed voluntarily to inform the potential victims that their credit security was breached. But she says the state now doesn’t have the authority to require that disclosure.

(Brill) “We feel strongly that consumers ought to be notified when there is a security breach and we would like to see that enacted here. California is the only state that has that law. We think it ought to be enacted here.”

(Dillon) Outside the committee room, Brill offered some advice for consumers who learn that their financial and personal data were compromised. First, they should file a police report indicating they’re the potential victim of identity theft. Second, they should go to the three national credit reporting agencies and tell them what happened. The agencies will then place an alert on their credit report.

(Brill) “These consumers should also contact any creditor, like a bank or a department store or a loan company, that opened up a false account in their name. And they should inform those credit grantors that the account is false and that it should be closed, [that] it was opened as a result of identity theft.”

(Dillon) Brill says that this whole process is a tremendous headache for consumers. But she says it’s the businesses that usually eat the financial losses as a result of identity theft.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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