Consumer group warns of ID theft

January 18, 2008 6:08:53 PM PST
While it is illegal for companies to sell credit card and financial account numbers, it's okay to sell names, addresses and phone numbers.

Sometimes that's enough for a smart thief to assume your identity. One consumer group says a state law to help you find out who's buying your information may not be so helpful after all.

When you wrote those checks or filled out order forms for those holiday gifts last month, most Californians didn't know some stores keep that information and may sell it to information brokers.

"I don't feel we have much control over any of our information anymore. Anytime you get online, or go to the store. I'm not surprised at all," said shopper Laressia Carr.

A 2005 state law called "Shine the Light" allows consumers to ask companies which third parties their personal information was shared with.

Companies are also supposed to provide a cost-free way to opt-out.

A new report out today by the California Public Interest Research Group found only one third of the survey participants received responses from companies consistent with the law.

"Consumer information is spread out in so many different places. And the more places a consumer's information is, the more likely that they are victims of identity theft. The current policy is a good first step but clearly California policy makers need to do more," said CalPIRG Consumer Advocate Pedro Morillas.

The Office of Privacy Protection says one million Californians had their identity stolen in 2006. The State's Consumer Services Secretary, who was an identity theft victim herself is frustrated with the report's findings.

"Yeah that's a problem. What we want to make sure is that consumers know what their rights are and they protect themselves. And companies have a lot to lose," said California Consumer Services Secretary Rosario Marin.

Included in the report's recommendations are making companies provide an opt-out on their Web site and getting an "opt-in" approval from customers before their information is shared; moves opposed by small businesses.

The state Attorney General already has the authority to fine businesses violating the "Shine the Light" law.

"Typical California; Opportunity to add more and more layers of government and regulation at a time when we still have not seen this particular law fully tested," said John Kabateck from the National Federation of Independent Business.

The new Legislative session starts next week. CalPIRG hopes to find a lawmaker to propose its recommendations.