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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Vigilance remains best ID theft shield

Any consumer could become a victim of identity theft, but that doesn't mean we're sitting ducks.

Electronic transmission of information makes daily routines infinitely more convenient, but the tradeoff is our increased vulnerability. The more readily we yield to the lures online shopping, frequent-shopper reward cards, telephone purchases the farther we launch our private identity data into orbit.

It would be impossible to reel all that data back into the home filing cabinet now. And this is why state leaders deserve applause for cracking down on identity theft by passing a slate of bills that employ both punitive and preventive measures.

Under these bills just signed into law by the governor, when security breaches occur, businesses and government offices that keep personal data must alert consumers of the theft or disclosure. They must take prudent precautions in the disposal of records, and they are barred from disclosing Social Security numbers to the general public.

Once a crime occurs, victims can protect their credit by placing a freeze on credit reports, and the criminal is slapped with stiffer penalties.

All of these fixes are necessary, but the job isn't finished.

The state's newly renamed Identity Theft Task Force must keep tabs on experiences elsewhere for ideas on how to further harden the shield.

But consumers themselves also must hold their own identity cards close to the vest.

Does that sweepstakes entry ask for information you'd rather not share with the world? Maybe you should pass. Did the fund-raising agency ask for a credit card number over the phone? How can you be sure you're not talking with a scammer? Tell the agent to mail you the form instead.

About that mailbox: See if you can reduce the number of credit-account offers and other junk the postal service delivers. And take care that key data gets shredded before it's trashed.

One helpful resource: Fight Identity Theft (www.fight identitytheft.com) offers tips on reducing mass-marketing intrusions and scams.

In an age of constant data streams, consumers must think twice before letting their personal information escape their grasp.