Video: Identity theft protection

By
NBC News correspondent
updated 4/25/2005 7:26:54 PM ET 2005-04-25T23:26:54

Barbara Haviluk says the call came out of nowhere.

"Discover Card informed me that a person had all my information," she says.

A thief had her mother's maiden name, her Social Security number and more.

"It was like an out-of-body experience to realize that somebody could then use me for their financial gain."

She's not alone. More than 5 million Americans have had their personal information lost or stolen in the last six months. Many don't realize there are things they can do to protect themselves.

  • Experts say you can ask the credit reporting agencies for what's called a "fraud alert." Typically good for 90 days, they raise a red flag on any unusual credit activity.
  • You can tell credit card companies to stop sending those convenience checks. They can be stolen from your mailbox.
  • Consider using a P.O. box or perhaps buying a lockable mailbox for your home.

Back in California, Barbara Haviluk fought back with that state's credit-freeze law.

Here's how it works: You send $10 to each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and Transunion — asking them to freeze access to your credit reports until you unfreeze them.

How?

"It’s as simple as putting a pin number, just like an ATM pin number, onto your credit file," says MSNBC.com's technology correspondent Bob Sullivan, author of a book on identity theft. "So if somebody steals your personal information and applies for credit, they wouldn't know your pin and they couldn't open a credit card or get a bank loan in your name."

Beyond California, Texas, Vermont and Louisiana will have similar laws soon. Eighteen others are considering the idea.

But critics says it will make the credit process much slower.

"That is a little like bricking up the windows and doors on your home in order to prevent burglary," says Stuart Pratt, the president and chief operating officer of the Consumer Data Industry Association.

But for Barbara Haviluk it's an insurance policy.

"Now no one can use my account or open up an account using my information," she says.

She feels it’s a small price to pay for more peace of mind.

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