New Federal Law Kicks In

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Will allow people to get free credit reports & help combat the growing identity theft crisis

CBS-TV National Evening News

DAN RATHER, anchor: A new federal law kicked in today that will allow you to get a free copy of your credit history each year so you can check it for accuracy, see who’s inquired about your record and protect yourself from becoming a victim of the fastest growing crime in America, as CBS’ Bill Whitaker reports in this Consumer Alert.

BILL WHITAKER reporting: When we first met Mark Cowen almost seven years ago, he was a victim of identity theft, fighting to get back his good name and good credit.

Mr. MARK COWEN (Identity Theft Victim): (From January 1998) I’ve lost my identity.

WHITAKER: Today he says the new law allowing consumers like him free access to their credit reports would have saved him a lot of time and money.

Mr. COWEN: You know, I wish it would have happened a few years ago, because I know there’s been hundreds of thousands, if not millions of us yelling about this.

WHITAKER: The program, starting today in 13 Western states and rolling out across the country the next 10 months, requires the big three credit companies to give consumers their credit reports once a year at no charge.

(Graphic on screen)
Experian – Equifax – TransUnion

WHITAKER: It’s designed to combat the growing identity theft crisis, now striking more than 10 million consumers a year.

Mr. DON GIRARD (Experian): Periodically looking at your credit file is a very good hedge against identity fraud. First of all, it will alert you if you see an entry on there with an establishment that you don’t do business with.

WHITAKER: Consumer advocates say it’s about time, a first good step, but no solution.

Mr. DOUGLAS HELLER (Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights): It will give you a heads-up if something is going wrong. But just knowing that the crime is happening isn’t going to stop it. We have got to clamp down on these banks who are just trading our private financial information like it’s a commodity — you know, like pork bellies.

WHITAKER: As for Mark Cowen, seven years later, he’s still trying to clear the mess off his credit reports.

Mr. COWEN: So sadly, a lot of the information that is fraudulent is still there, and it takes a while to get it swept off of my report.

WHITAKER: Then this: There’s no free lunch, and the same might be said for credit reports. Watch now for the big three credit companies to give free reports with one hand while pushing costly new identity protection services with the other. Bill Whitaker, CBS News, Los Angeles.

Consumer Watchdog
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