SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today sent a letter to Secretary James Nicholson of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calling on him to take immediate steps to protect veterans from identity theft and financial devastation after it was revealed that data belonging to millions of veterans nationwide had been stolen. In the letter, Governor Blagojevich urged the Secretary to immediately reach out to the three credit reporting agencies and negotiate a no-cost security freeze for each of the 26.5 million veterans whose personal information was stolen. The Governor today signed legislation that gives every Illinoisan the ability to freeze their credit, starting January 1, 2007, if they believe their personal information may have been compromised.
“Thousands of veterans in Illinois alone face significant financial risk as a result of your agency’s mishandling of their personal information,” wrote Gov. Blagojevich. “Today, I signed legislation that will give every Illinoisan the ability to put a freeze on their credit report if they believe their personal information has been compromised. Current law only allows consumers to freeze their credit report once they have evidence that they’ve been the victim of identity theft. Our new law is a common sense step to prevent identity thieves from opening new lines of credit and running up debt under someone else’s name.”
Because the law passed by the General Assembly does not take effect until January 1, the Governor urged Secretary Nicholson to take action now, writing, “You can help protect veterans’ credit now, before they become victims of financial fraud or identity theft. I urge you to immediately reach out to the three credit reporting agencies and negotiate a no-cost security freeze for each of the 26.5 million veterans whose personal information was stolen.”
On Monday, the VA announced that a compact disc containing identifying information of millions of veterans had been stolen. The information on the disc included names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings.
Governor Blagojevich has directed the state’s 75 Veteran Service Officers (VSO) to work with volunteer organizations to provide veterans with the federal VA notification, the VA’s toll free number where they can obtain additional information, and with additional resources including contact numbers for the fraud department of the nation’s major credit bureaus.
Under Senate Bill 2310, sponsored by Senator John J. Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Representative Marlow H. Colvin (D-Chicago), Illinois residents will be allowed to place a security freeze on their credit reports. The bill also requires a password to remove the freeze.
"This bill not only helps protect residents against identity theft, it also helps lenders detect possible cases of fraud," Sen. Cullerton said. "This legislation expands protections against the fastest growing crime in the nation."
“This new option is one of the only proactive things consumers can do to prevent identity theft,” Rep. Colvin added. “It’s important that we give Illinoisans all the necessary resources to prevent theft and protect themselves.”
Most cases of identity theft involve applying for credit using someone else’s personal information. This bill protects against identity theft because it allows consumers to prevent unauthorized applications for loans.
Current law allows people who have already been victims of identity theft to freeze their credit reports but does not require that the credit reporting agencies make a security freeze available to anyone else.
For more information on how to protect against becoming an identity theft victim, Governor Blagojevich is also encouraging individuals to call the Illinois Attorney General Office’s Identity Theft Hotline toll free at 1 (866) 999-5630. The hotline provides Illinoisans who have been victimized by identity theft with one-on-one assistance to take the steps necessary to report the crime to local law enforcement and financial institutions, repair their credit, and prevent future problems.
During his administration, the Governor has taken several steps to protect personal information and increase penalties for identity theft in the state of Illinois, including:
· Requiring the Illinois Department of Revenue to notify a taxpayer directly if they suspect another person has used their Social Security number to register a business or pay taxes and fees
· Requiring companies to notify Illinois consumers if personal information is compromised.
· Allowing victims of identity theft to freeze their credit reports.
· Requiring the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to phase in new Conservation ID (CID) numbers to replace Social Security numbers on hunting and fishing licenses.
· Prohibiting insurance companies from printing or embedding social security numbers on consumers’ insurance cards.
· Increasing the penalties for identity theft and aggravated identity theft crimes.
· Making unauthorized copying and transmitting of any financial transaction devices including credit and debit cards, or other devices used to make a payment, get cash, or make a deposit, a Class A misdemeanor.
· Prohibiting businesses from denying a person credit or utility services, or from increasing a person’s credit limits based solely on their status as an identity theft victim.
These new laws are helping provide Illinoisans with peace of mind and protection from the fastest growing crime in the country. Last year alone, identity thieves cost consumers $550 million. On average, victims will spend about 600 hours and $1,500 repairing their credit. These initiatives are helping individuals take steps to protect their assets and identities before thieves wreak havoc on their credit.