Helping hand from the government
December 1, 2004
“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.” That line usually is heard with a dollop of sarcasm, but sometimes it happens to be true. Today is one of those days.
A new service is available to Nevadans to check their credit reports (located online at http://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP).
The idea is to give people nationwide one free opportunity a year to get a credit report so they can find out if there is unwarranted information – a bad debt, an unpaid loan – that shouldn’t be associated with their name. It an effort to fight identity theft, a serious and widespread crime in which stolen information is used to obtain money or credit in someone else’s name.
Unfortunately, when we tried the new system on Wednesday, the first day it was available to Nevadans and others in western states, we couldn’t get it to work. We’re hoping that was because a lot of people were trying to use the Internet system and it was simply overwhelmed.
But we also discovered that anybody who is wary of putting personal information on the Internet – one of the most likely places for identity theft to occur – is not going to be particularly comforted by this process.
The first thing it asks is for personal information – name, address, birth date and Social Security number. You have to already have a level of comfort with Internet security devices to take the plunge and hit the “Send” button.
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Nevertheless, when it’s up and working the credit-report service is a valuable one. The three private companies used by the Federal Trade Commission in the service, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and others have been making a living off of fear of identity theft.
Such reports can be pricey, and that discourages the average person from making an annual excursion into their credit history. It’s only when they try to obtain a major loan, such as purchasing a home, they find out that their credit has been wrecked. At that point, it’s a long road back.
Like the do-not-call registry, this is an example of government helping its citizens solve problems before they get worse.