Bush Signs New Protections Against Identity Theft

President Bush (search) on Thursday signed legislation giving consumers new protections against identity theft, including free credit reports and a national fraud-alert system to minimize damage once a theft has occurred.

The measure also requires that receipts omit the last digits of credit cards.

"People work hard to build up good credit histories, and rely on their credit to move forward in life," Bush said in a Roosevelt Room signing ceremony. "Today we're helping to make our credit system fair, fairer to all, and to better protect people from those who would abuse it."

The legislation renewed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (search), which set a national credit reporting standard to make it easier for people to get credit cards, loans and mortgages. Set to expire at year's end without reauthorization by Congress, the current national credit reporting system helps the economy by making it easier for consumers to get credit quickly.

Opponents of the bill say it pre-empts tougher state privacy laws that prevent businesses from sharing their customers' financial information with other companies. Critics wanted lawmakers to change a provision that would stop states from setting separate rules on how businesses use, share and report data on consumers.

Identity theft is a widespread problem. It involves the fraudulent use of another person's private information, credit cards and such for personal gain. An estimated 9.9 million Americans last year were victims, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Under the legislation Bush signed, consumers will be able to e-mail, call or write the three major credit bureaus for a free copy of their credit report and their credit score each year to help them understand why their credit was denied or approved. It also will require businesses to black out Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and debit card numbers on receipts, and require the coding of medical information on credit reports.

Consumers also will get one-call protection because it requires credit bureaus to share consumer information reporting identity theft.