Taking Credit Where It Ain’t Due

I’m thinking about starting a new category of posts: “I Call Bullshit.” Crude, perhaps, but there’s no other way to describe some of the wankery being foisted upon the general public these days.

Take “Your Credit Card Companies.” In today’s “Newsweek”, they have a message for you:

Your Credit Card Companies remind you most identity theft comes from mailboxes
click image to enlarge

Put another way: “it’s not us, it’s you.” Yes, despite ChoicePoint’s recent sale of private data to a criminal front organization, Citi’s loss of 3.9 million accountholders’ personal data, and the theft of untold account numbers from CardSystems, a company that wasn’t supposed to be keeping the data anyway, Your Credit Card Companies would like you to know that it’s more often your own damn fault for not watching your purse, wallet, or mailbox.

Not to worry, though: Your Credit Card Companies are “proactive”, which in this case means they’ll check your credit report when you apply! Amazing! If there’s a “fraud or victim alert” on your account, they’ll even call you directly.

Of course, they’d rather you not think too hard about how that alert is supposed to get there. While all card issuers have fraud detection measures, Your Credit Card Companies (and Their Credit Bureaus) don’t give you any way to help them work — unless you’re willing to pay, of course. Shell out for services such as MBNA PrivacyAssist ($9.99/mo) or Equifax CreditWatch Gold ($9.95/mo) and you can at least see your credit reports, a definite improvement.

Still, even with your $100+/yr investment, it would be smart to watch your mailbox. Their nebulous “privacy” services won’t do anything to staunch the flow of pre-approved applications, convenience checks, and all number of solicitations for new financial products.

Though this ad mentions your mailbox, it conveniently omits the main reason it’s a danger: the companies themselves. The truth is this is an idustry that has shown itself woefully incapable of self-regulation. If we’re to get serious about identity “theft” (I prefer the term “impersonation”), we’re going to need new laws, new practices, and new tools. I have some ideas for those, which I’ll share in a subsequent post, but I’m not holding my breath. We might need to wait for a few members of Congress to fall victim to fraudulent transactions before we’ll see real change.

Congress has made a few baby steps in the right direction, however. The Fair Credit Reporting Act “requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.” (Available now in most states; everywhere from 1 Sep ’05.) By staggering your requests, it’s possible to keep a fairly close eye on your credit reports.

It’s also a great idea to opt out of “pre-approved” credit and insurance offers. Visit OptOutPreScreen.com and fill out the form. I recommend “permanent” removal, which has resulted in a nice decrease in mail around here. (If you ever start to feel as though your current credit card is not up to snuff, you can always use comparison services such as BankRate.com to find a new one.)

Through these simple steps, you’ll be at least better equipped to hang on until that glorious day when Your Credit Card Companies realize that mailboxes and databases are in fact two separate things — and they both need protecting.

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