Friday, May 7, 1999

Steps taken
to avert isle
identity theft

Social Security numbers are
coming off Hawaii drivers
licenses and IDs

By Pat Omandam


If you really want to know what the 1999 Legislature did that affects you, look in your wallet.

By the year 2001, both Hawaii state identification cards and Hawaii drivers licenses will no longer display Social Security card numbers for all to see -- and perhaps steal.

Instead, your Social Security number will be replaced with a computer-generated random number, a practice that will help the state combat the problem of identity theft, said state Consumer Protection Director Jo Ann M. Uchida.

"I think that if we're going to be able to meaningfully tell people to guard their personal information, you have to start with the drivers license," she said.

"Because no matter how many times you tell people you shouldn't give out this information, the first retort is, 'The government is forcing me to disclose it on my drivers license.' So I think that this will kind of send a message that everybody is encouraging people to seriously think about protecting their personal information."

Uchida yesterday said there is a noticeable problem of identity theft in Hawaii, where individuals use other people's personal information -- mostly Social Security numbers -- to create false identifications to open fraudulent credit card accounts and loans, as well as for other criminal action.

The Office of Consumer Protection has seen an increase in complaints from residents who have received letters from collection agencies, even though they have no idea what the debt is for and deny having anything to do with the transaction.

When questioned, Uchida said, many trace the problem to a lost wallet, a misplaced identification card or someone who looked over their shoulder while they used their ID or credit card on a trip. But once they know when and how the problem began, some don't do anything to correct it, she said.

"For some people, I think they just pay it because it's very intimidating to get a letter from a collection agency," she said. "Most people, however, at minimum will ask the collection agency for some information and try to get to the bottom of it."

After taking a few years to discuss identity theft, the Legislature this session passed two bills to deal with the problem, one of which was signed by Gov. Ben Cayetano on April 15 as Act 015.

That law removes the requirement that Social Security numbers be displayed on state ID cards, and changes which fingers are used for prints on those cards.

Liane Moriyama, administrator of the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center, which includes the State Identification Office, said in-house staff is discussing plans for alternative numbers for the state ID cards which would take effect on July 1, if not sooner.

Those who get identification cards before then will still have their Social Security numbers on them.

Moreover, Moriyama said she wants to work out a way to continue to provide Social Security numbers on cards for those who want them. There are between 400,000 and 600,000 people who have state identification cards, used by many who don't have driver's licenses as proper ID.

Moriyama reminded those who have state ID cards without expiration dates that their cards expire at the end of the year.

The bill that bans the use of Social Security numbers on driver's licenses still must be signed by the governor before it becomes law, which would take effect on Jan. 1, 2001.

Dennis A. Kamimura, head of the city Motor Vehicle and Licensing Division, said yesterday there is no need for the state's 746,329 licensed drivers as of Dec. 31 to rush to get new licenses once the law takes effect. They can wait until their licenses expire before applying for the licenses without Social Security numbers, he said.

However, if they want the new license immediately, they can apply and pay the fee.

Kamimura said the computer-generated numbers will be unique and stay with the same person as long as he or she is driving.

Meanwhile, Moriyama said changes to the law regarding which digits will be used for fingerprints on state identification cards were made to comply with industry standards. For years, the state required a fingerprint of the right thumb. Now, with the advent of automated fingerprint ID systems nationwide, people must use their left and right index fingers.

Moriyama said there were many instances before where the right thumb didn't give a good print, but the law didn't allow the other digits to be used.

How to protect crucial number

Here are some ways to safeguard your Social Security number:

Bullet Keep your Social Security card in a safe place.
Bullet If businesses ask for your number, you can refuse. Ask for another method that will allow them to keep records, or take your business elsewhere. Giving your number is voluntary, even when you are asked for the number directly.
Bullet To check if someone is misusing your number, review your Social Security number record every three years. Call 1-800-772-1213 and ask for a personal earnings and benefit estimate.
Bullet If you suspect someone is misusing your number, call the Office of Inspector General hot line at 1-800-269-0271.

Source: State Office of Consumer Protection

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