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Press Release of Senator Cantwell

Cantwell Reaches Out to Help Washington’s Veterans Guard Against ID Theft

Following theft of millions of veterans’ personal data, Cantwell demands answers, works to raise awareness, helps veterans find remedies

Tuesday, June 06,2006

WASHINGTON, DC – Tuesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) launched an aggressive program to reach out to Washington state veterans potentially affected by the theft of an electronic data file earlier this month containing the names, birthdates, or social security numbers of as many as 26.5 million veterans from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee. Cantwell has already e-mailed 4,000 veterans and their families with tips to protect their identities against theft and she will now help veterans organizations get the word out by providing 50,000 informational handouts to veterans groups on how veterans can protect themselves and stay safe from identity theft.

“We need to make sure Washington’s veterans have the tools they need to protect themselves and their families from identity theft,” said Cantwell. “The VA needs to do more to protect veterans’ personal information and not leave them vulnerable to identity theft. I’ve heard from many Washington veterans who are angry about this massive security failure, and I will do everything I can to work to get them answers and help them take steps to protect their identities and those of their family members.”

“While it’s unclear how many veterans in Washington state have had their personal data compromised, thousands of Washington’s brave veterans could be affected,” said John Lee, Director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. “I appreciate the work of Senator Cantwell to provide veterans with the latest information and help them understand how to protect their identity.”

To date, there has been no evidence that the stolen information has been used in any identity thefts. However, given the rise in the number of identity thefts in recent years, Cantwell is working to help veterans safeguard their identity and make them aware of every tool available to protect their identity and finances.

Cantwell is advising all veterans to check their financial statements for suspicious activity, including inquiries from companies they have not contacted or done business with, purchases or charges they did not make, new accounts they did not open, bills and statements that do not arrive as expected, and denials of credit for no apparent reason. Veterans can also request a free credit report. By law, all Americans are entitled to one free credit report each year. To request a credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus, veterans can visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.

If veterans discover suspicious or unusual activity, they should contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus immediately:

+ Equifax at 1-800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com
+ Experian at 1-888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
+ TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 or www.transunion.com

Veterans should then close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently, file a police report with local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by phone at 1-877-438-4338, online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20580.

The theft of the data file from a VA data analyst’s home, reported May 22 by Secretary Nicholson, involves personal information of all living veterans discharged since 1975, veterans discharged in any year who are collecting disability compensation from the VA, and some spouses of veterans. However, the data did not include any of VA’s electronic health records or financial information. To help veterans learn more about the theft and what they can do to safeguard their identities, the VA has posted important information online at http://www.va.gov/. Veterans can also visit http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo for additional info. The VA has set up a toll-free number (1-800-333-4636) to help veterans get information and learn more about how to protect their identities. The call center is open from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific Time, Monday through Saturday.

In a letter to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, Cantwell has requested a complete explanation of the security breach, and asked the VA what it was doing to help victims guard against identity theft, and to explain how it would work to make sure the stolen information is not used for criminal activity.

Cantwell has worked actively to help identity theft victims and reduce the number of identity thefts. Cantwell’s amendment to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, signed into law in 2003, helps ensure that identity theft victims are able to protect their credit rating from further damage by requiring credit reporting agencies to block information on fraudulent transactions resulting from identity theft. It created a standardized process for people to establish themselves as victims of identity theft, and allows law enforcement to act as the victim's agent in obtaining business records. The law also requires that once a business verifies that an individual is a victim of identity theft, the business has 30 days to provide all relevant application and transaction records to the victim.

Cantwell is also the sponsor of legislation to investigate the link between meth crimes and other criminal activity such as identity theft. The growing connection between identity theft, the nation’s fastest-growing crime, and the use and production of methamphetamines is an issue raised often during Cantwell’s meetings with law enforcement officials from across Washington state.

[A summary of steps veterans can take follows below]

1. Monitor financial statements and credit reports for suspicious activity

What do you mean by ‘suspicious activity?’

Suspicious activities could include the following:

· Inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted or done business with

· Purchases or charges on your accounts you didn't make

· New accounts you didn’t open or changes to existing accounts you didn’t make

· Bills that don’t arrive as expected

· Unexpected credit cards or account statements

· Denials of credit for no apparent reason

· Calls or letters about purchases you didn't make

Free Credit Reports

By law you are entitled to one free credit report each year. Request a free credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion—at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

2. If I discover suspicious or unusual activity, then what?

The Federal Trade Commission recommends the following four steps if you detect suspicious activity:

Step 1 – Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus:

· Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

· Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, Texas 75013

· TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289: www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Step 2 – Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Step 3 – File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Step 4 – File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by using the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline by telephone: 1-877-438-4338, online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20580.

For more information on the latest developments please call Cantwell’s office at 1-888-648-7328, call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636), or go to http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.