CHARLESTON - Charli Fulton, the Senior Assistant Attorney General in Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office, recently took a complaint from a man whose identity was stolen through his credit report.

"What can happen is people can get credit in your name and ruin your credit," she said. "I got a complaint from one consumer that said he went to apply for credit and discovered a car loan in his name."

It was a car the man had never seen, let alone driven. When he tried to fix the problem, claiming it wasn't his loan, Fulton said he was told he could not view the details of the loan because it wasn't his. He hasn't even been able to report it to the police.

"When it happens, it's kind of too late," Fulton said. "It's a mess to straighten out."

McGraw's office recently revealed that a number of West Virginians have been exposed to possible identity theft because of two security breaches.

On June 24, employees of Thomas Memorial Hospital and St. Francis Hospital received letters from Medical Excess, a medical insurance company, stating there was a break-in at the Medical Excess office where a camera, two laptop computers and a file server was stolen.

The file server contained individual names with corresponding Social Security numbers and birth dates. The letter advised the hospital employees to watch for any unusual activity on their credit card accounts.

McGraw's office determined the break-in exposed more than 900,000 persons to possible identity theft.

Earlier in June, Humana sent letters stating an employee used a hotel's business services computer for business purposes, resulting in some Humana Medicare members' information to be stored in a temporary file on a computer that was available for use by hotel guests.

That information included names, addresses, telephone numbers, member identification numbers and Social Security numbers.

"In our credit-reporting system, peoples' credit reports and scores are filed with your Social Security number as your identifier," Fulton said. "If you have that number, a person's full name and date of birth you can go to a lender and basically give all the false information as yours and get a loan."

Fulton said identity theft was the No. 1 reported complaint in the U.S. Trade Report, and the industries involved are still trying to find safeguards against it.

She says 23 states have notification laws, which require any company that has a possible breach with information that can lead to identity theft to quickly notify those who could be affected. West Virginia is not one of those states.

McGraw proposed such a law and a security freeze law, which freezes all credit activities when identity theft is possible, during the 2006 legislative session, but both were defeated.

In a press release, McGraw states, "Since June 1, nearly 2 million Americans have had their personal information stolen because of a security breach. Nearly 89 million Americans have been affected by security breaches in the past 18 months. It is well past time for laws to be enacted to allow private citizens to lock the door on their personal information before they are the victims of theft."

Fulton says that the current best method of fighting identity theft is prevention.

She says organizations can request credit information when determining who to pre-approve for a loan or a credit card. Anyone who wishes can block organizations from being given their information.

Also, a person's credit report can be fixed to only be presented online when certain questions about its past are answered.

Fulton actually she said she could not see her own because she answered a question about her mortgage incorrectly.

As for litigation against those who use others' identities, Fulton said the Attorney General's office has a hard time pursuing that avenue.

"We have state laws that prohibit identity theft, so you can file a police report," she said. "You can file a complaint here, although our ability to investigate is hampered by limited resources.

"Though if you know who did it, then we can help you."

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