Dear Friends —

Here are the rest of the winners of the book "50 Ways to Protect Your Identity and Your Credit" by Steve Weisman. The subject of identify theft was covered in two columns last month (Part I here and Part II here.)

Since I forgot to ask you to submit your U.S. mail address with your request, please check this list and email this information back to us if you recognize your letter. (I'll match this against your e-mail address.)

Be sure to type the words "Credit Book" in the subject line of your email. I ask your patience: once we compile a list of home addresses, we will forward this to the publisher, who will mail the copies.

Have you become more tuned into identity theft issues? I certainly have. Just this month it was reported that the DSW Shoe Warehouse chain admitted it had been victimized by identity thieves, who hacked into the DSW database and grabbed 1.4 million credit card numbers and information on 96,000 checks, including driver’s license numbers!

Fortunately, the national retailer does not collect Social Security or PIN numbers, so if you bought a pair of shoes at a DSW store at least you know the I.D. thieves didn’t get that information. (Small comfort.)

Also this month, Lexis-Nexis admitted the breach of its security was worse than thought: I.D. thieves apparently got the Social Security and driver’s license numbers of – oops! — more than 300,000 individuals, not the "32,000" the company originally reported as late as last month.

Got a General Motors-branded MasterCard issued by HSBC? Seems identity thieves have been using some of these cards to make fraudulent clothing purchases. And they’ve got expensive taste: the buys have occurred at Polo Ralph Lauren stores. About 180,000 people could be affected.

All this has got politicians jumping on their soapboxes (better late than never) to denounce the current state of affairs and rush in with new fixes. The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would essentially extend California’s law nationwide. If enacted, a company that experiences a security breach would have to notify affected consumers that their personal information had been stolen.

New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer is proposing legislation to protect residents of the Empire State. The Colorado state legislature is debating legislation.

Last, but certainly not least, I’m sure every taxpayer will be happy to know that the computer systems of the Internal Revenue Service have significant security "flaws" that make it the mother lode of data for identity thieves!

The General Accounting Office, the accounting arm of Congress, found that 7,500 IRS employees, law enforcement agents, and outside contractors have access to tax returns and reports relating to financial crimes such as money laundering. In addition, there’s a master list of passwords and user names that is “widely available.”

A "master list of passworks and user names" — you’ve GOT to be kidding! What rocket scientist came up with that brilliant idea? Every high school computer geek knows how stupid that is! And to think the American taxpayers have spent millions of dollars for this "new and improved" I.R.S. computer system.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the I.R.S. claims a number of the security issues have been addressed and says the rest should be fixed by the fall... which gives I.D. thieves about another six months to get what they need. Gee, I guess they’d better hurry.

Take care,

Gail

P.S. Several of you wrote saying you visited the Web site that lets you request that you be removed from the mailing lists of companies that send "pre-approved" credit card offers. For those interested it is: http://www.optoutprescreen.com.

A couple of you wanted to be removed from the lists that generate unsolicited mail and phone calls, but said you couldn’t find the link to the “Direct Marketing Association” on the above website. I checked: the link is right in the middle of the page! Here it is: http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html

Dear Gail,

My ex-best-friend has my SSN and other personal information, and has already done things to me that make me think that identity theft to try to ruin my credit are next on her list. She stole all the assets of our joint business, for example.

If she commits identity theft to hurt me, I'd like to see her go to jail for it. If she doesn't, I will feel guilty for imagining she's that bad. I don't think I'll feel that guilty though. She's a snake.

So please tell me what I need to do. Please do not publish my name.

“S”

Dear “S,”

Author and attorney Steve Weisman says: If you are confident your ex-best-friend has stolen your identity, you need to file a criminal complaint.

Gail says: Be wary of filing against a “snake” unless you have the proof.

Dear Ms. Buckner,

I became a victim of identity theft after I left my home state of North Carolina and moved to Canada and then Wisconsin. I paid most of my creditors off before I left and the rest were to be paid by my ex-husband.

Two years later I received a notice from a credit card saying that I owed $3000. I requested copies from them of the transactions and never heard anything back. To date, there are 3 companies stating that I have balances with them, but none have sent me a copy of the transactions for me to prove it.

I haven't done anything concerning this matter because I was completely unaware of anything that I could do since I have no way of knowing what the companies are claiming I charged or even if it was in the States or Canada.

I'Ve read your two articles concerning this and am thinking that I need to follow up on it, but have no idea how since the credit card companies aren't helping me at all. That's why I thought a copy of the book could really help me an awful lot.

Thank you,

Cheryl F.

Dear Cheryl,

Weissman says “the law is pretty clear. When you owe a debt to a creditor, and even if your divorce decree says your ex-husband is supposed to pay this, the company you owe money to isn’t bound by this.”

Translation: If you have outstanding debts, you are still responsible for paying them. Weisman says if you want to collect from your ex-husband, you can bring him back to court on a contempt charge for ignoring the terms of your divorce settlement.

In meantime, you should write a letter that explains your situation and have this added to your credit report. You should explain that your credit history looks bad because of a divorce.

Finally, send certified letters (keep a copy of each) to the three companies who claim you own them money and again request details. If you don’t hear back from them, you can use this as evidence of why the complaints should be removed from your record.

Hope this helps,

G.

Hi Gail,

I would like a free copy of " 50 ways to protect Your Identity and your credit" Someone is using my social security and not filing income tax. So I'm getting the bill for not paying taxes. For 5 years now I've been having to write to the IRS to tell them it’s not me. I really would like this book, maybe I can stop this from happening again.

Thank You,

Mike M.

Hello Gail,

I found out last October that someone had received a credit card in my name while I was in college at Florida State University. It nearly stopped my wife and I from buying our first home, and now a year and a half later, the charges are still on my account. The credit agency that the card was issued through basically called me a liar on the phone, and won’t do anything about it. Thanks for the great article.

Chandler B.

Chandler,

According to Weisman says the credit reporting bureaus are under a legal obligation to do a thorough investigation. If, they neglect to correct your credit file after being presented with evidence showing there are inaccuracies in your file, they are liable.

In other words, you could sue them for hurting your reputation.

Think about having a lawyer send a letter. Might be enough to get them motivated.

Gail

More letters follow:

Gail,

I am the primary investigator of financial crimes for the Amador County Sheriff's Office, a small rural county in Northern California. In addition to being responsible for investigating these crimes, but I am also the primary deputy responsible for public awareness programs about financial crimes. I conduct in-service training for patrol deputies and speak to service clubs, fraternal organizations and business groups.

Your book would be an invaluable resource for me and the Sheriff's Office in educating the public and in crime prevention.

Don R.

Dear Ms. Buckner,

As a prosecuting attorney assigned primarily to economic crimes, I am always looking for information to share with the citizen groups I speak to. I believe the above resource would be useful. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Bill M.

Dear Gail Buckner:

Thank you for writing the very informative series of reports entitled, "Thwarting ID Theft". In Part II of this series you cite numerous sources from the private sector as to where thieves can derive personal data, and, what I have recently found very disturbing is that the public sector — more specifically local, county, and state governments — are selling personal data and jeopardizing the personal credit histories of their constituents!

For instance the Milwaukee County government is selling hundreds of thousands of "copies" of home mortgages to anybody who will buy them! These "copies" include mortgagees' personal data such as full names, addresses, phone numbers, and full social security numbers.

Joseph E.

Hi Gail,

As the Safety education Coordinator for Willamette University in Salem, Ore., I need to regularly remind students, staff and faculty of ways to keep safe. This is especially crucial here because we have a huge methamphetamine problem in the region; much of the ID theft here is directly linked to meth addicts. I would greatly appreciate a copy of this book!

Thank you,

David S.

Gail,

My wife and I teach money management at churches in our area. Most we teach are naive to this topic. It would be a great resource to reference for our presentations. Thanks.

Curtis and Becky C.

I work for a government contractor on a military facility. I try to be very conscious about giving out information and things like that, but I always wonder in the back of my head if I am doing everything I can. Especially considering the fact that I work in a secure facility.

Hugh M.

Hi, Gail.

I've recently had my credit card number stolen and the fraud followed me through three new card numbers and caused an accounting nightmare because my credit card company confused some of the card numbers and cross-billed charges & credits.

I think I've got it straightened out, but I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can!

Thanks,

Melissa H.

Ms. Buckner,

Please send me the 50 Ways — I teach investment classes at my university for students and also give free ID seminars to help students, faculty and people in the community. It would be much appreciated to add to what I already have. Thank you very much!

Professor Kerry G.

Hi Gail,

I run the Security Awareness program at my company and it is my responsibility to educate the employees of various ways they can protect themselves, both at home and at work. I believe the information in the book you are offering would be useful to all employees at my company

Thank you for your consideration,

Abrielle V.

Hello Gail,

Since my husband died last year I've wondered if some of his identity can be used to resurrect (no pun intended) his credit in ways I cannot imagine. Not only that the help may contain information as to whether or not I'm fully responsible for his debts he had before his death (to help me protect my credit).

Many Thanks.

Shirley P.

Gail,

I fit the model of ID theft victim. Between 18 and 29, young professional, brand new mortage and car along with a few credit cards. Additionally, I live in Florida, one of the top states for fraud and a state where a recent exploit to a data company has left 32,000 (or more) Floridians open to id theft. I need this book!

Thanks,

Burt G.

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