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Monday December 16, 2002
By Debra Bowen, California State Senate

     SACRAMENTO - Preventing identity theft by requiring government agencies - including public colleges and universities - to stop using Social Security numbers as public identifiers is the goal of SI3 25 by Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), which was introduced at the State Capitol.
     "Identity theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime in the country and a Social Security number is the pass key criminals need to unlock a person's entire financial history.
     Posting grades by Social Security number and forcing people to carry their SSN around on their student ID card is about as safe as putting them up on the scoreboard during the Rose Bowl game," said Bowen.
    The Internet has made it faster and easier than ever to do business and buy things online with just a credit card number and the click of a mouse.
     Unfortunately, that same convenience makes it painfully easy for criminals to bide behind a computer and assume your identity to rob you blind." SR 25 expands California's landmark identity theft prevention law (SB 168 (Bowes) of 2001), which prevents private sector businesses from using Social Security numbers as public identifiers and gives Californians the right to shut off, or "freeze,'' access to their credit reports.
     SB 25 extends those Social Security number restrictions to all government agencies, including public colleges and universities. Under SB 25, public entities will have to ensure that Social Security number don't get posted or displayed, printed on lofts sent in the mail, or used on identification cards.
     The bill also requires banks and retailers to honor security alerts people place on their credit reports when they're worried about identity theft. SB 25 requires any business that pulls a credit report and sees it's been red flagged with an alert to contact the customer at the phone number on the alert before approving new loans and credit in their name.
     "If you're afraid of having your home broken into, you look the doors and get an alarm system, you don't leave the key in the lock and post directions to your house on the Internet," continued Bowen.
     "Requiring people to use their Social Security number as their identification number forces them to wave the red flag in front of a bull and hope it doesn't charge. Eliminating identity theft isn't easy, but we can reduce the odds that people will get ripped off by taking Social Security numbers and other `red flag' personal information out of general circulation."
     A recent national survey of college students conducted by Impulse Research showed: basis and about one. third of them throw out the offers without destroying than. Thirty percent of students rarely, if ever, reconcile their credit card and checking account balances. Forty eight percent of teachers still post their grades by Social Security number.
     In November, Riverside County authorities arrested a Rialto man suspected of stealing the names and Social Security numbers of some 150 college students, mostly from UC Riverside, and using that information to get credit cards and run up more than $200,000 in charges in the students' names.
     The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Identity Theft Resource Center, both based in San Diego, estimate at least 700,000 people a year become victims of identity theft.
     Identity thefts reported to the Federal Trade Commission's ID theft hotline skyrocketed from 88,000 complaints in 2001 to 117,139 complaints in 2002.

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