A consumer group provided tips for consumers whose credit card information may have been put at risk by computer hackers who illegally accessed the private financial information of approximately 40 million credit card accounts. The Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights (FTCR) said that new federal and state standards for database security and accountability must be established.
“Companies that profit from our personal information must be held accountable when they put consumers at risk of credit card fraud and identity theft,” said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. “Reckless storing and exchange of Social Security numbers and other private information by corporations has dramatically increased Americans’ risk of identity theft.”
The breach of private financial information occurred when a computer hacker gained access to databases at CardSystems Solutions Inc., a company that processes credit card purchases for major credit card companies. Approximately 14 million MasterCard customers accounts were accessed. According to MasterCard, customer names and bank account balances were tapped — enough information to allow hackers to steal funds from those accounts. MasterCard said that Social Security numbers were not accessed by computer hackers but no information is available about the approximately 26 million other credit card accounts that were accessed. Social Security numbers allow identity thieves to open new credit card and other accounts or get a driver’s license in the consumer’s name.
The CardSystem breach comes in the wake of series of information thefts at major database companies including LexisNexis and ChoicePoint. It is estimated that those two security breaches gave hackers access to 455,000 consumer accounts, including Social Security and driver’s license numbers.
FTCR offered the following tips to consumers put at risk of credit card fraud and identity theft:
1. Immediately review credit card balances. Many major credit card companies allow customers to check their credit card balances on-line and to view up-to-date lists of purchases. Consumers should call their credit card issuer’s customer service hotline to open on-line accounts.
2. Report fraudulent activity immediately to the credit card company. The Fair Credit Billing Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts. The law also limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card.
3. Check credit reports for fraudulent activity, such as new credit card accounts opened in the consumer’s name by identity thieves, through the three big credit bureaus: http://www.equifax.com, 1-800-525-6285; http://www.transunion.com, 1-800-680-7289; and, http://www.experian.com, 1-888-397-3742.
4. Consumers in California and other states can place a ‘fraud alert’ on their credit reports. Fraud alerts can help stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in the consumer’s name. Removing inaccurate information form credit reports once fraud has occurred can be a costly and time-consuming process.
5. If you have been a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and file a report with local law enforcement. A toll-free identity theft hotline is available at Federal Trade Commission: (877) 438-4338. Click here to access on-line complaint forms.
To demonstrate the need for better consumer protections, in 2003 the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights legally purchased Citigroup CEO Charles Princes’ Social Security number on-line for $30 and then hired a professional skywriter to write the first five digits over New York City. Click here for more information. Identity theft led all complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and doubled in 2002.
President Bush promised in his 2000 campaign to make it a criminal offense to sell a person’s Social Security number without his or her permission, but has yet to deliver. [Associated Press, October 29, 2000, Q&A: Gore and Bush on Education, Trade and Other Issues] Bush also said: “I think there ought to be laws that say a company cannot use my information without my permission. We can live in a private world” [ZDNN Q&A with George W. Bush, ZDNet News, Jun. 21, 2000].
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization.