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Friday, March 31, 2006

National Consumer Protection Week Has Come and Gone. Notice Any Difference?

National Consumer Protection Week was held February 5-11, and there was much hoopla over protecting you from identity theft, as well as nineteen other scams listed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on its site: “’Consumer Protection: It’s the Name of the Game’ For National Consumer Protection Week 2006.” The week is sponsored by several government agencies, as well as the FTC and major consumer protection organizations.

Try the FTC’s “Grand Slam Challenge” to test your ability to recognize scams, bargains that aren’t, and simple fact or fiction questions that will keep you on your toes. I did, and it’s both interesting and entertaining.

All this fanfare over protecting your rights was going on at the same time your esteemed congressional leaders were pushing legislation in the House of Representatives that severely limits your ability to learn of personal data breaches. The House Committee on Financial Services voted 48-17 to approve a bill that lets the “breacher” (data brokers, banks, junk mail companies, etc) decide if this is necessary. That’s like leaving your cat in charge of the parakeet while you’re gone. See Declan McCullagh’s story on C/Net, “Newsmaker: The politics of data security.”

This dumb bill would completely zap the provisions of the California law that caught ChoicePoint and some sixty other companies, organizations and schools in 2005 that violated the rights of 9 million consumers. Ed Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director for Public Interest Research Group, says, with this bill, there would be no notices of data breaches because the alert level is so high.

And then I ran into a site—posted just before the consumer protection week started—from junk mail’s industry organization, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). It tells us that we don’t have to worry about identity theft any longer. The article, “ID Fraud Growth Is Contained, Finds Better Business Bureau And Javelin Study,” is not worth linking to but here are some of the facts:

• ID fraud has declined marginally from 10.1 million people to 8.9 million
• Average fraud amount has increased from $5,249 to $6,383 (worse, right?)
• 68% of victims suffer no loss (which means 32% do)
• Time spent fixing the fraud increased from 33 hours to 40 (more bad news)

My interpretation of these facts is that ID fraud is still full-blown, but the fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated, getting more of your money with less effort. It is ludicrous to me that an organization like the DMA would state that identity theft has been contained. Maybe it isn’t so bizarre, since a measurable percent of ID theft comes from junk mail.

You may be sick of hearing it, but there is only one answer to protecting your name and personal information. Pass federal legislation that will give you control. And while we’re at it, make the junk mailers PAY YOU every time they sell your name and private data. Please, take the time to contact your members of Congress. Here are sites that make it easy: U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Tell them I sent you!

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