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New law helps stop, prevent ID theft

BISMARCK - North Dakotans soon will have the toughest credit freeze law in the country on their side, protecting them from identity thieves. The new law takes effect June 1. It allows victims of identity theft or people who suspect they may be ta...

BISMARCK - North Dakotans soon will have the toughest credit freeze law in the country on their side, protecting them from identity thieves.

The new law takes effect June 1. It allows victims of identity theft or people who suspect they may be targeted for identity theft to tell credit reporting agencies not to let their credit information be accessed to open new lines of credit or make other transactions that would involve a credit check.

Consumers then can temporarily "thaw" their credit information when they need it available for their own credit transactions.

The law comes through House Bill 1417, which got final passage in the House on Tuesday and is on it way to Gov. John Hoeven for signature.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the bill is the most important consumer protection legislation in this session. Stenehjem and North Dakota AARP Associate State Director Linda Wurtz said the North Dakota's law will be the best in the nation. AARP has pushed for similar law all over the country.

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"We've watched 28 other states. We agree this is the strongest bill in the nation," Wurtz said Tuesday.

The prime sponsor on the bill was Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo. Stenehjem and consumer protection director, Parrell Grossman, researched and worked on the details of the bill over the last two years.

Koppelman had a bill two years ago to help identity theft victims report the crime to police. It included a credit freeze section that was removed through amendments.

New law

Stenehjem said the average identity thief steals $6,000 worth of goods and services from a victim - more than the average bank robber - before moving on to the next victim. Once thieves get the right information about someone, they successfully can open credit card accounts, cell phone accounts, rent apartments, take out loans, go on spending sprees and divert financial mail, he said.

Under the new law, anyone may freeze their credit information, whether they're already a victim or not. Victims can enact the freeze free, and someone who wants to do it as a preventive measure will have to pay $5. An example of someone who may want to freeze information as a preventive measure would be those who hear news stories about a company's credit data being compromised, and they have an account with that company. Another example is the report last year that data from the federal Veterans Administration had been stolen in burglaries.

Prevent ID theft

Stenehjem has two basic pieces of advice to prevent identity theft:

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First, don't have your Social Security number on your checks.

The second is to monitor information in your credit files with thrice-annual visits to www.annualcreditreport.com .

The site gives access to all three of the major credit reporting companies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion - where you can get free copies of your credit report once a year. Stenehjem suggests spreading out those annual requests, getting one from each agency over the course of a year instead of getting all three at once. That will give you much more frequent opportunities to check the information.

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