For Immediate Release - August 12, 2004

CONSUMER AFFAIRS OFFICE, REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES AND MASSPIRG TEAM-UP TO THWART ID THEFT ACCESS

Urge Massachusetts Drivers to Switch to "S" Numbers

(Boston, MA) The social security number is the master key to consumers' personal information and assets. In the possession of criminals it becomes the primary tool for fraud, often turned against its owner with devastating results. Today Consumer Affairs Director Beth Lindstrom called on Massachusetts drivers to make the switch to a "S" license number to protect themselves from the rising tide of identity theft.

"We know that 46% of our drivers are still using their social security number as their license number. That's an avenue for fraud that consumers have the power to close down," said Lindstrom.

"I am urging our citizens to take the protective steps at their disposal to avoid becoming an identity theft victim."

Beginning in October, consumers who choose to renew their licenses on-line will no longer have the option of using their social security number as their license number. Those currently using their social security numbers will default to an "S" number upon renewal on-line. A license will only issue with a social security number if an applicant specifies that choice at a full-service Registry location.

"For some time, we have been urging our customers to use a state-assigned number instead of a social security number to protect themselves from identity fraud," said Kim Hinden, Registrar of Motor Vehicles. "We recognize that some of our customers might wish to retain their social security number for familiarity reasons, but we urge them to re-consider," added Hinden.

In association with MASSPIRG, the Office of Consumer Affairs will shortly begin distributing new Identity Theft Prevention posters for display at all Registry of Motor Vehicles locations, city and town libraries, consumer assistance offices and senior centers throughout the Commonwealth.

MASSPIRG praised Consumer Affairs Director Beth Lindstrom and Registrar of Motor Vehicles Kim Hinden for their leadership in protecting consumers against identity theft. "The changes announced today will make it easier for consumers to safeguard their social security numbers and will further the cause of bringing greater awareness, information and prevention to a growing problem that government, business and the public must be vigilant in addressing," said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG's Director for Consumer Programs.

"We will continue our efforts within government and cooperatively with business to eliminate unauthorized access to personal information. Safeguarding your social security number is an important measure of protection, but there are many other basic steps consumers must make part of their daily routines," said Director Lindstrom.

REDUCE THE RISK OF ID THEFT

  • Obtain a randomly assigned "S" driver's license number and keep your social security card and other important financial records in a safe, secure place in your home.
  • Always know which credit cards you are carrying and do not carry more than you actually need or use.
  • Hold onto your credit card receipts and match them with monthly statements to monitor for unauthorized purchases.
  • Shred all financial information, billing statements and credit card offers before throwing out. A paper shredder does the job!
  • Don't leave mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends. Consider a mailbox with a lock.
  • Do not offer personal information to telephone solicitors without establishing that their offer and business is legitimate.
  • Do not use your credit cards on websites that do not provide for secure transactions. Look for the 'lock' icon along the bottom of the web page and note that the page you enter personal or credit information should have a URL address that begins with "https".
  • Order your free credit reports from the three major credit-reporting agencies annually.