Video: Safeguards for ID theft sought

By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/25/2005 7:35:39 PM ET 2005-03-26T00:35:39

In San Francisco, 67-year-old Warren Lambert has a new daily ritual — standing guard over his bank accounts and credit rating. Last month Lambert learned he was among 145,000 Americans whose personal information — identities — had been stolen from ChoicePoint .

“[It was] very intimate information about me, actually more information about me than my own children have,” says Lambert.

It was a massive leak from a company whose specialty is collecting and saving 19 billion records.

“This is an industry that holds a tremendous amount of information — a very rich dossier on just about every American adult,” says Beth Givens with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

But it is also an industry without much government oversight. California is the only state requiring companies to warn customers if their personal information has been compromised.

In recent months, it's happened at: Boston College, Chico State, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Lexis/Nexis and Bank of America.

"It's incredibly difficult to hold onto your own information,” says Givens. “In fact, you can't. Plain and simple."

Untangling an identity theft mess takes the average American some 600 hours. And last year it cost businesses and consumers more than $52 billion.

Now, with members of Congress talking about tougher regulations to safeguard personal identities, federal regulators this week began pressuring banks to more promptly disclose any security breach when identity theft or misuse of information is reasonably possible.

“Absolute security is a very tough standard to meet,” says Wayne Abernathy with the American Bankers Association. “We're very close to it, but it's one of those goals that you always come closer to but never quite reach.”

Experts say if you suspect your personal information has been compromised, you should:

  • Close all your credit card accounts;
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports;
  • Ask government agencies to flag your file.

Back in San Francisco, Warren Lambert fears his golden years will be spent waiting for his stolen identity to be used against him.

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