Relief on the way for identity theft pains

| Thursday, October 30, 2003

Identity theft victims next year will be able to alert banks, credit card companies and law enforcement with one phone call under a new pilot program, The Associated Press reported.

The Federal Trade Commission said last month identity theft cost consumers and businesses $53 billion last year. About 9.9 million Americans discovered people took money from their bank accounts, or obtained credit cards or official documents in their names, the survey said.

To help alleviate the problem, the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 institutions handling about 70 percent of the economy's financial transactions, is creating an Identity Theft Assistance Center.

The financial group said its program would begin May 1, 2004, and involve its 100 members, including Bank One Corp., Citigroup Inc. and MBNA Corp. After one year, the industry plans to evaluate the program, make needed changes and expand it to other non-member financial institutions.

Under the program, victims would call their local bank, which in turn would contact the assistance center. The center would then call the victim and obtain an affidavit to be sent to law-enforcement officials, credit card companies, financial institutions and the credit bureaus.

In addition, financial institutions that receive applications for credit or loans could run the requesting person's name through the center's database to make sure the name of the person asking for the money is not the same as someone who has reported that he or she is a victim of identity theft. If the names match, the institution will be alerted to do a more thorough check of the applicant.

Dick Kovacevich, chairman of Wells Fargo & Co., which is handling the pilot program, said, ''Financial institutions need to provide a single point of contact.''

Meanwhile, legislation before the Senate would allow consumers to receive free copies of their credit reports annually, place fraud alerts in their credit reports, and call one credit bureau and have the information shared with all. The House has passed similar legislation.