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Pioneer Editorial: Steps taken in ID theft protection

The loss of key computer data involving 26.5 million American veterans has given new urgency to the dangers of identity theft. A Veterans Administration analyst apparently took home a laptop with the data on veterans that includes Social Security numbers and may even included phone numbers and addresses. The laptop was stolen, and it is unknown if the thieves know what they have.

The danger is that the data is enough to manufacture false identifications, which can be used to secure credit cards and other identity-based information than can drain a person's bank accounts or otherwise create great hardship. Called "identity theft," it will prove to be the new high-profile crime of the 21 century.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty this week, however, signed into law new protections for Minnesota consumers that will hopeful give some tools in the fight against identity theft. Prompted by the Minnesota AARP, as seniors are most vulnerable to identity theft, the new law will allow consumers to put a security freeze on their personal data.

When the law takes effect on Aug. 1, Minnesotans will be able to contact the three credit bureaus in the United States to clamp down on access to their information. They will have to pay a $5 fee to enact the freeze, and another $5 to lift it when they want to make a purchase that requires a new line of credit. Victims of identity theft, however, can have the fee waived.

Identity theft happens when someone uses stolen financial information and applies for loans, credit cards or leases. The crime can take many forms but always involves the misappropriation of personal information for fraudulent purposes. Older consumers are often prime targets for identity thieves because they have long credit histories and more savings and home equity. By "freezing" their credit, others will not be able to ac-cess it with false identification, while also allowing them the ability to obtain timely access to credit for major purchases by temporarily "thawing" the freeze.

The new law will allow Minnesotans to "have some control over the release of our private data -- and can better safeguard our credit reputations," said AARP State President Skip Humphrey. Said Pawlenty in signing the bill: "Before the damage spirals out of control this gives consumers some power." Also calling the new protection key is Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, who co-authored the bill in the Senate.

Some lesser-know provisions of the bill are also key, such as regulating credit card solicitations through the mail by ordering verification of a completed application with an address different from the address on the offer and preventing creditors from being able to offer credit to someone under 18 without a written request from a parent or guardian.

Our growing electronic age poses new dangers in the criminal theft of information, and Minnesota has taken the right steps to safeguard people's identity.