In response to members of Congress, particularly Senator Richard H. Bryan, the Federal Trade Commission has recommended that Congress amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to provide confidentiality protections to certain elements of consumer identification.
The FTC said current law does not prohibit consumer reporting agencies (also known as credit bureaus) from releasing solely identifying consumer information, yet the ready availability of such data "may facilitate identity fraud, credit fraud and other illegal activities."
The Commission has received numerous complaints, as well as Congressional inquiries, concerning recently-introduced, widely-available commercial services that provide, for a fee, identifying information on individuals. According to recent press reports, at least one tracking service currently furnishes an individual’s name, maiden name, aliases, address, prior addresses, telephone number and birth month and year. It is reported that the tracking service in the recent past also furnished Social Security numbers.
Enacted in 1970, the FCRA’s intent is to promote accurate consumer reporting and to protect the privacy of consumer information compiled by credit bureaus by restricting access to such information. It has been reported that the consumer information obtained by the tracking service referenced above comes from a consumer reporting agency, which maintains the identifying and other information on its extensive computer files of data utilized in the preparation and furnishing of consumer reports.
The Commission, in its letter to Senator Bryan, said fraud concerns "outweigh the limited legitimate uses of this information for locating individuals." The FTC recently held a public conference on credit identity fraud to learn more about how the availability of consumer identifying information can allow a criminal to take over another consumer’s good credit history and ruin it with, among other things, fraudulent purchases. The Commission suggested to Senator Bryan that "it may be appropriate to reexamine the elements of information that consumer reporting agencies can legally provide to recipients who do not have a statutorily defined permissible purpose to obtain the information."
Specifically, the letter suggests that "Congress may wish to consider amending the Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide confidentiality protections to the following elements of consumer identification: Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, prior addresses and date of birth." The result of this change, according to the FTC, would be to limit release of this information only to those with a statutorily permissible purpose.
In the meantime, the FTC suggested that consumers open billing statements promptly and reconcile their credit card accounts each month, just as they would with their checking account.
Also consumers should report promptly and in writing any questionable charges to the card issuer. In addition, consumers could investigate how to remove their names from publicly available lists, if they choose to do so.
Copies of the Commission’s letter to Senator Richard H. Bryan are available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch is located in Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 202- 326-2502. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
FTC File No. P950101