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Mari Frank
Interview by Mary Beth Guard

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"Let me stress that no one is immune. Anyone with a social security number can become a victim: babies, students, even someone stealing the identity of a family member happens much more frequently than you realize. "
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"I was blessed. Because of my prior experience as mediator, I knew how to communicate with people, how to write a letter. And I was lucky."
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"How do I think a banker should respond to a customer who becomes a victim of identity theft? First of all, I'd like a bank officer to say, 'My goodness, my heart goes out to you. Let me fax you this two-page sheet on what to do.' "


From the newly-proposed Electronic Bill of Rights to the European Union Privacy Directives to the recent passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, the spotlight is on the issue of consumer privacy and how financial institutions, in their privileged position as information gatherers and credit grantors can deal with the abuses of privacy invasion. Of the many ways that this abuse of privacy occurs, one stands out as being particularly insidious; it is identity theft-the ultimate deception that can and does literally ruin the lives of its unsuspecting victims.

What better way to understand all facets of this issue than to go straight to the source? That's just what's Mary Beth Guard has done. She conducts an in-depth interview with one of the nations' most famous identity theft victims -- Mari Frank, Esq. of Laguna Niguel, California, who is an attorney, mediator, and author. She is now the leading expert on identity theft and the author of The Identity Theft Survival Kit.

In August of 1996, Ms. Frank learned through a telephone call from Bank of New York - Delaware, that she owed eleven thousand dollars in credit card payments to a bank she never knew. Eight months later, after untold personal expense and countless hours of investigation, she was able to discover exactly how the crime of identity theft had been perpetrated against her. She spent 500 hours calling and writing letters to transform herself from victim to victor. From her ordeal she emerged as an advocate, to assist many others who have found themselves in the same harrowing and devastating situation.

As a result of her experience, Ms. Frank has testified before several legislative bodies and assisted in the passage of a new law in California making identity theft a crime. She also testified at the U.S. Senate and assisted in the recent passage of a law making identity theft a federal crime (Title 18 USC 1028.) She's appeared on NBC, CBS, CNBC, ABC, Dateline, 48 Hours, and Lifetime. She'll be featured in an A&E Investigative Reports documentary on identity theft this winter. She has also been featured in Your Money Magazine, U.S. News & World Reports, Good Housekeeping, Women's World, The Congressional Journal, The Los Angeles Times, the October, 1998, issue of the American Bar Association Journal, and numerous other periodicals. She's been interviewed on dozens of radio shows. One of Mari Frank's crowning achievements is her Web site that features extensive information and The Identity Theft Survival Kit, a resource and guide for victims, and her book From Victim to Victor that details step-by-step legal and consumer instructions to end the nightmare (see At present, Ms. Frank is working with The Privacy Right Clearinghouse, Office Depot and Fellowes Corporation, to create a privacy and identity theft protection booklet that will make its appearance at Office Depot beginning in January, 1999.

Hear Mari Frank's story for yourself as traces Ms. Frank's path from identity theft victim to victor and learn what she has to say about the role of banks in preventing and combating this crime. She also shares how banks, as victims themselves, can protect themselves. 

The Reality of Identity Theft

MBG: First of all, Ms. Frank, how would you define the crime of identity theft?

M. Frank: Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name and usually your social security number to obtain credit, loans, employment, health care services, rentals, and mortgages. Sometimes the imposter will file bankruptcy in your name. But your identity could also be used by someone who has committed crimes, so you could have a felony criminal record without even knowing it. Worse yet, there have been many victims who were wrongfully arrested!

The primary issue for the identity theft victim is to halt the crime spree, but that's the tip of the iceberg. A victim's major concern is to get his/her life back. Victims have lost their cars, their employment, their homes, and their reputation. Some have filed bankruptcy just to survive.

MBG: How common is the crime of identity theft?

M. Frank: When I was featured on 48 Hours, Dan Rather quoted a CBS survey. He said one out of four adults have already been a victim of identity theft to some degree. As of November, 1998, the credit reporting agency TransUnion estimates that it is receiving 56,000 calls a month to their fraud hotline from people who claim to be identity theft victims. This corresponds with what I consider to be a conservative estimate of over 500,000 new victims per year.

MBG: Do you feel it could happen to anyone?

M. Frank: Let me stress that no one is immune. Anyone with a social security number can become a victim: rich, poor, babies, students, even people who have died. Unfortunately, a family member stealing the identity of another family member happens very frequently. I used to think it was only those persons with pristine credit who were targeted, but a legal aid attorney in New York told me recently that hundreds of his low income clients are being victimized as well. I have received myriad of calls from middle income persons with just average credit, who are also, victims.

Identity theft occurs in many ways. Recently a man called me and told me that he and his wife decided to buy a house, and he found out that his credit was ruined. Or the international airline pilot who called to tell me he'd been living in "identity theft hell" for four years. Even with a fraud alert on his credit report, instant credit was issued. In a particularly tragic incident, I spoke with a woman who was about sixty. She had gone into the hospital for cancer surgery. Her daughter decided to hire a cleaning agency so her mother would come home to a clean house. Months later she began getting collection calls. The cleaners had stolen her financial information, and her identity. She ended up losing her home and going bankrupt. Another incident involves a woman from California who is a CPA who had gone to her mother's funeral in another state. She placed her purse on the conveyor belt for airport security, and someone ran off with her purse. She immediately cancelled all her credit cards, but months later she received bills from a hospital in another state for delivery of a baby that was not hers. She couldn't obtain the medical records to prove that she was not the mother. Her credit was ruined, and she then lost her new job as a CPA due to her disastrous fraud credit history.

MBG: Why did it happen to you, Mari, and how did your ordeal first begin?

M. Frank: I had perfect credit - a great target. My ordeal began on a Friday afternoon in August 1996. I was about to take my children swimming when the phone rang. It was a woman saying she was with the Bank of New York, Delaware, and she asked if I was Mari Frank. At first, she said she represented Toys 'R Us, and she asked why I hadn't paid my $11,000 credit card bill. I said, "I have an eleven-year old daughter and a seventeen-year old son. I wouldn't spend $11,000 on toys!" I laughed.

She retorted, "This is the Bank of New York, and this is no laughing matter."

MBG: So at first you figured there had been some mistake, and your initial reaction was simply one of disbelief?

M. Frank: Absolutely. It never occurred to me that someone had stolen my identity. I told her that I didn't have a credit card with her bank. She verified my social security number and birthday, and replied that I had a credit card with them for the past ten months. I asked her the address on the billing statements. It was some place I'd never heard of in Ventura, CA, about 4 hours north of my home.

MBG: When it began to sink in that something was wrong, what did you do next?

M. Frank: Well, I felt overwhelming panic and needed to set things straight. I asked the woman from Bank of New York to please fax me all the fraudulent information immediately, including the original application. She said she couldn't fax it, but she'd send the original application and the billing statements by next week. She also had my Equifax credit report in front of her, but wouldn't tell me what was on it. I told her what credit cards I had and asked her if there were any other fraud cards on the report. She told me that there were more accounts contained in the report and that I'd better send for a copy myself. I immediately called Equifax and discovered there was also a $15,000 credit line from Security Pacific and other credit cards as well. I called all the other credit grantors too and asked for the original applications and all billing statements. In fact, I spent almost the whole night on the phone. I also called and wrote the credit reporting agencies to get current copies of my credit report to ascertain the extent of the fraud.

MBG: At this point, how did you feel about what you'd learned so far?

M. Frank: Frightened! I was just trying to put my finger in the dike of this flood of problems, and in doing so I experienced incredible frustration. I called the local police who told me that there was really nothing they could do since I wasn't the victim; the credit grantors were the victims. So I called the FBI. They said it wasn't their jurisdiction. I then called the Secret Service who acknowledged jurisdiction, but said they couldn't get involved since only $40,000 or $50,000 was at stake. It needed to be at least $200,000 or there needed to be evidence of a fraud ring. They said the banks had lost the money and that the financial industry needed to deal with it. Although he was sympathetic, he blamed the banks for issuing easy credit, and said he couldn't help.

MBG: After being denied assistance by these law enforcement agencies, where did you turn for help?

M. Frank: The next thing I did was get on the Internet and start searching for fraud and identity theft. I found two very helpful sites: The California Public Interest Group and The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which had the most relevant information. I called and spoke to the Director, Beth Givens. She said, "I know what you're going through, and you're not alone. We're hearing this all the time." It was such a breath of fresh air! Someone finally understood, and gave me information about whom to contact.

MBG: What was the advice you got from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse?

M.Frank: They referred me to their fact sheet - Coping With Identity Theft. It gave a list of steps to take.

MBG: What steps did you take?

M. Frank: I spent the entire weekend writing letters to the credit reporting agencies, the fraud creditors, and my own creditors. On Monday morning I called the Ventura Police Department where the fraud took place. Just by coincidence, the Senior Watch Commander answered the phone. Commander Dave Englis told me that even though there wasn't any law that recognized me as the victim, he would help me because HE was a victim himself! He said that when he had refinanced his house, someone had stolen the application and assumed his wife's identity. Their credit had been ruined, and they were up to their eyeballs in financial problems for the last two years. He promised to investigate the address I gave him, the address to which the credit cards had been mailed.

MBG: If the officer you spoke to hadn't been a victim himself, do you think you would've gotten the same result?

M. Frank: No, I'm sure I wouldn't have. We didn't have an identity theft statute in California at that time. In most states, the police won't even take a report. But because this officer could sympathize, he sent a woman lieutenant out to the address the next day. It was so bizarre, because when the woman imposter opened the door, the lieutenant recognized her from the aerobics class they attended together for the previous three years. The lieutenant asked, "Do you know Mari Frank?" The impersonator stuttered and said, "Yes, she used to live here. We get her mail, but put it back in the box so the mailman will take it." This was absolutely untrue.

The Ventura police then ran a background check on the woman and, sure enough, she was on probation for shoplifting. One of the conditions of her probation was that she had to submit to a search. When the police went back that night with a search warrant, they found credit card billing statements, two sets of checks in my name with her address, a letter from a rental car agency threatening to sue me for the damages she caused to a car she rented in my name. A pile of pre-approved offers with my name. There was also a stack of my business cards from my office. So she was also impersonating me in my profession as an attorney as well. I didn't know if she was appearing in court with my name. I feared being disbarred. (I immediately called and wrote to the State Bar to alert them.) I realized she must have driven down to my office and stolen the cards from our receptionist's desk. Now I have my photo on my business cards. By the way, they also found a 22 Beretta handgun in her desk.

MBG: Had you ever met this woman before?

M. Frank: No, I had not. In fact, I never saw her until her mug shot was featured on a national show when my story was featured. Ironically, her estranged husband was a police officer, and her father was a retired law officer. She was a paralegal, working in law office in the Ventura area. That's where she was posing as a private detective, pulling up credit reports on line off the computer. My credit report was found in her possession when she was arrested.

MBG: How were the police able to use this massive amount of information against her?

M. Frank: They arrested her immediately, but she was out on bail that very same night. Ultimately, she never served jail time. Her punishment was two months in a work-furlough program, and then she was released with five years probation. She was picked up by the police again not long ago for new crimes, and is presently doing another work furlough.

MBG: Knowing what she'd done, how did you feel about her getting out so quickly?

M. Frank: It reinforced my belief that the victims get victimized by the thief first, then by the systems. I realized first hand that economic crime is the stepchild of the criminal justice system. Let me give you a couple more examples of the victimization by the various agencies. When I contacted Security Pacific about the $15,000 unsecured credit line, they wouldn't believe I wasn't the imposter. They made me fax them my passport, my driver's license, and utility statements before they would even speak to me. Finally I begged them to call my bank (Bank of America) and said, "I'll go to my bank and stand there with the manager and have them call you to tell you who I am." Ironically, my imposter showed no identification to get the $15K credit line. When I asked what identification the impersonator had to show to get the unsecured credit line in my name, there was no response.

MBG: What ever happened with the Bank of New York, Delaware?

M. Frank: They refused to send me the application and billing information to me or the Ventura police fraud investigator. I called and said, "Listen, in order to file a complaint with the District Attorney, the police must have as much evidence as possible." Because these kinds of crime are a low priority -- violent crime takes precedence, the District Attorney is very selective. I finally spoke with Vice President of the bank and informed him that this refusal was obstructing justice. Since his bank had lost $11,000 it would be in its best interest to provide the information. He complied by sending the information to the police in overnight mail.

MBG: Were you yourself eventually able to get the information?

M. Frank: Yes, thanks to the Vice President of the bank. The original application was sent as a promotional application to the imposter; to her real name: Tracy Lloyd at 239 Estrella, Ventura, CA. It was not a pre-approved offer. She crossed one line through her name and kept her home address but replaced my name, my social security number, my birthdate, and my business address (4 hours north from the address on the application.) She even spelled the name of my city wrong. Then she wrote her real phone number which had a different area code than my address. Whoever processed the application must have pulled my credit report, and all these blatant discrepancies were clear - especially the difference of address. But no one tried to verify if I had moved, and no one questioned the changed name.

MBG: No one bothered to check out any of the information?

M. Frank: Apparently not. They just sent the card to the impersonator. That was the very first card she received. As you know, when a new credit card is issued, it is reported to the credit reporting agencies (CRA), and automatically the fraud address on the application was entered into the system as a current address. Then the CRA's sold my name and perfect credit profile with the fraud address on promotion. New address, new cards, new promotions -- the imposter began to receive pre-approved credit lines at her address, like candy and flowers to her door! She joyfully accepted thousands of dollars worth of credit in my name.

MBG: Have you actually seen the application from the Bank of New York?

M. Frank: Oh, yes. When I testified before the U.S. Senate at the end of May this year, I brought overhead transparencies of that first credit card application with her name lined through and copies of the pre-approved offers with my name and the fraud address. The Senators finally understood. A picture is worth a thousand words. The financial industry needs to understand this problem and be held accountable. I know that many companies are very responsible and take precautions, so I applaud them. However, many banks are not training their staff in fraud protection. Carelessness facilitates this crime -- banks lose millions, and consumers lose their identity and are financially raped. The financial industry must take steps to prevent this type of crime.

MBG: What did the Bank of New York, Delaware say about the problem?

M. Frank: I spoke with the Vice President, and told him to look at the fraud application. He said he was shocked. I told him, "I know you personally didn't cause this problem, but someone's got to take responsibility to train your employees to check and confirm identifiers. If there are discrepancies, don't you think it's worth it to take the time to call and check if there is a discrepancy to see who's requesting credit?" He told me that it was not their policy to verify identity by phone or letter. I understand that Chase Manhattan has recently purchased the Bank of New York, Delaware and I am hopeful that policies have improved.

MBG: At this point, the woman had been caught and you'd received most of the incriminating evidence. Were you now beginning to feel in control of the situation?

M. Frank: No! At that point I was in tremendous fear because the imposter was out on bail, and continuing to commit fraud. My children were frightened because we knew she had owned a gun and had stolen mail from our mailbox. I was worried because this woman was out on bail, and she began stalking us by phone.

On the financial front, I was writing dozens of letters. It took me four letters (each) return receipt requested, just to first obtain my credit reports from TransUnion and Experian. I could not get the fraud information removed from my credit report and I was getting collection calls and letters on a daily basis. It was a continuing nightmare.

MBG: What aspect of this experience would you say was the biggest ordeal?

M. Frank: Dealing with the various agencies. If it wasn't the police or the banks, it was the credit reporting agencies or even the post office. While I was playing detective during all this, I looked at all the credit inquiries on my credit reports. My credit profile was pulled by CBS Mortgage at the end of 1994. I knew I hadn't tried to refinance or buy a new home, so I called the CRAs and requested the phone and address information on all the entities that had made inquiries about my credit. Then I called CBS Mortgage and asked why they accessed my credit report. They said they'd sold my Equifax credit report to a smaller credit-reporting agency in Tennessee. I called that company in Tennessee. They reluctantly faxed me a declaration, signed under penalty of perjury by Tracy Lloyd (the imposter) stating that she had business dealings with me as a private detective. Without verification, they had sent her my credit report and credit reports of other victims as well.

Then there was the post office. While the imposter was out on bail, she kept receiving mail in my name, and accepting offers of pre-approved credit. I called and wrote the various postal authorities in California and Washington, D.C. - yet could not stop the mail from being sent to the fraud address. Finally, I spoke to the mail carrier personally on the phone to stop the delivery of mail in my name. The post office required that I submit a change of address, but it wasn't a change of address; it was a fraudulent address. Since that time, the postal authorities are verifying change of address by sending a post card to the "former" address to see if it is true.

MBG: As an expert on identity theft, what advice do you have to offer victims?

M. Frank: Persistence is probably a victim's biggest asset. Because of my experience as an attorney and mediator, I knew how to communicate effectively in writing, and to research information and the law. I was luckier than most. I never gave up until my ordeal was totally resolved.

Unfortunately, victims must take responsibility to help themselves. There are myriad phone calls to make, letters to write, records to keep, and files to prepare. Victims who hire legal counsel for the "clean up" will spend thousands of dollars. For those who wish to file lawsuits under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Fair Credit Billing Act, an attorney may take the case on contingency, but because these cases are so costly to litigate, unless the victim had perfect credit and extensive losses (denied credit, lost job, etc.), the victim will probably not be able to find a lawyer to represent him/her. Even if a victim does file a lawsuit, he still has a duty to mitigate his damages by cleaning up the financial mess with calls and letters.

MBG: So, how did you decide to create The Identity Theft Survival Kit.

I received hundreds of calls and e-mails from victims across the country. Rather than continuing to deal with them one at a time, I answered their pleas for help and created The Identity Theft Survival Kit which contains the book, From Victim To Victor: A Step By Step Guide To Ending The Nightmare Of Identity Theft, and The Identity Theft Prevention and Survival Tapes with interviews with experts on Privacy and Identity Theft, and the computer diskette containing all the letters (including consumer and legal information) that a victim needs to write to the various private and governmental agencies to clean up the financial mess. This package is the more economical way for consumers to get help without them having to hire me or another attorney to restore their identity, credit and sanity.

MBG: Would you say that any good things have resulted from your bad experience?

M. Frank: I believe everything happens for a purpose in life. I realized I had to do something to remedy this nightmare for myself and others. After resolving my problems, one of the first things I did was help get legislation passed in California so that victims could get a crime report, which is essential to clean up the financial mess. In California, identity theft is now a felony under certain circumstances (PC 530.5). We also have another new Civil Code Section which provides that if an identity theft victim gets a police report that lists the fraud accounts, the victim can then send the police report (with a cover letter) to the three Credit Reporting Agencies, and the agencies must immediately remove the fraud accounts from the report (within 30 days.) The CRA's must inform the credit grantors of the fraud. Then the burden shifts to the credit grantors to prove that the accounts are not fraudulent. This is a tremendous relief for victims who previously had to prove they were innocent.

MBG: What is happening on the Federal level?

M. Frank: Senator Kyl from Arizona introduced The Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act. It became law on October 30, 1998 (Title 18 USC 1028.) It provides up to 15 years in prison, restitution for victims, and established the Federal Trade Commission as a clearinghouse for information for victims. Senator Diane Feinstein from California has introduced another bill, Senate Bill 600. The Privacy Protection Act of 1998-99 would prohibit Credit Reporting Agencies from selling the credit header information without the consumer's permission. This is opposed by the CRA's and passage is unlikely in its present form. There are many other bills dealing with privacy and biometrics use.

MBG: What's happening on the State level?

M. Frank: As sof 11/19/98, there are only a handful of states that have identity theft statutes. California (felony/wobbler); Wisconsin (felony); Arizona (felony); Colorado; Georgia; Kansas; Mississippi; West Virginia and New Jersey. Legislation is pending in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Hopefully, now that there is a federal law, more states will enact statutes.


Heads Up for Financial Institutions

MBG: What specific advice can you offer banks in preventing and combating this kind of crime?

M. Frank: First of all, most victims would like a bank officer to say, "My goodness, we are sorry this happened to you. Let me fax you some information on what to do." (Banks can get this two-page sheet entitled "What to Do If It Happens To You" from or and duplicate it for victims at no cost. It was prepared by The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and California Public Interest Research Group.

Institutions that have been defrauded should do the following:

  1. Gather all information from the victim and find out everything the consumer knows about the documentation.

  2. Close the fraud account and tell the victim to contact the CRA's right away.

  3. Provide victims with original applications and billing statements and other resources they need to go to law enforcement. Cooperate with the police with all evidence.

  4. Direct victims to helpful resources i.e.,, and

  5. Create a standard procedure for identity theft victims and provide special training for their customer and fraud departments as to detecting fraud applicants.

  6. Create brochures to give to customers on how to protect themselves and deal with identity theft.

MBG: Are there any protection measures for Banks?

M. Frank: Yes, here are some:

  1. Keep personal data locked up where temporary employees, etc., can't get it. In other words, keep personal data secure.

  2. Limit access to customers' personal information, and carefully scrutinize applicants for credit cards.

  3. Confirm all changes of address by sending a confirmation letter to the old address and to the new address. Or if you have time, make a phone call to the old address.

  4. Refrain from sending out convenience checks without requests from the consumer.

  5. Disguise boxes of checks when sent in the mail. It is safer for the account holder to come to the bank to pick up checks if it is convenient.

  6. Shred all account and personal information that is to be discarded. Just throwing out sensitive information in the bin (without labels) in the back of the bank to be picked up is dangerous! Just on point, in San Diego a TV news crew went and picked up bundles of un-shredded trash from behind several banks. Then the news crew delivered these important documents to the bank account holders to see how they felt about the crew obtaining their financial information. You can imagine how shocked and furious the bank customers were. Humiliated, the banks subsequently changed policies by purchasing locked bins, or began in-house shredding.

  7. Limit instant credit. When creditors just pull up a credit score; they often miss seeing if there's a fraud alert. New employees should be taught where to look on the credit report to find fraud alerts.

  8. Be alert for discrepancies between applications and credit profiles. For example, there may be different spellings of names, aliases, and changes of address. The bank security employees should be trained in spotting identity theft signals - strange credit profiles, numerous changes of address, etc.

  9. Don't list Social Security numbers on statements mailed out by the bank. A secret password should be used instead of the mother's maiden name. An imposter can easily ascertain maiden names, pet's names, and family names, etc.

  10. Request that an applicant for a loan or new customer opening an account provide you with three items of identification and at least one photo identification. Compare addresses.

  11. Carefully screen new employees, including part-time, contract workers (especially cleaning crews), third party payment processing vendors, everyone! Do background checks. You may have legal exposure for negligent hiring.

  12. Use anti-theft measures available for plastic cards. There are CVV for Visa and CVC for MasterCard.

  13. Use neural network software to monitor suspicious activity as it relates to cardholder or account holder spending patterns.

  14. Read our book From Victim To Victor - A Step-By-Step Guide To Ending The Nightmare Of Identity Theft for further prevention measures regarding computers and the Internet, and other workplace precautions.

Banks often have a problem balancing the security issue verses the marketing issue. Security officers have told me that many banks are so "customer-service oriented" that they are afraid to ask for thumbprints or verifying information when issuing credit for fear of losing customers. A good customer education awareness program will take care of those concerns. It's the bank's duty, and the merchant's duty, to educate consumers and help protect their identity and finances.

MBG: And what about credit reporting agencies? What could they do?

M. Frank: I believe that a credit report should not be issued without the consumer's permission. That would prevent or greatly reduce fraud loss and identity theft. Also, personal information on the credit header should not be sold without our permission. Presently, unless a consumer notifies the CRA's that they wish to be removed from promotional lists, the credit header information is sold without the consumer's knowledge. According to U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), 70% of all credit reports have errors and 29% have errors severe enough to prevent a consumer from obtaining a loan or have credit granted. It would make us sleep better at night if we knew what information was being sold about us. We should be able to review the information and make sure it is accurate. If we cannot prevent our information from being sold - let's at least make sure it is accurate.

MBG: What is being recommended for the safeguarding of information?

M. Frank: The Federal Trade Commission has set forth guidelines for entities to protect information. Take a look at (Privacy Report.)

Here is basically the recommendation for protecting personal information. It is similar to the European Union's Directives (effective October 1998) for privacy protection:

  1. Provide consumers with notice of your company's information handling policies.
    Before the information is given, consumers should be provided written notice of: the identification of the entity collecting the data; the proposed uses; who will receive the information; how it will be collected, whether it is voluntary; the consequences of refusal to provide the data; and the degree to which the data is ensured as to confidentiality and accuracy.

  2. Clearly define the specific use of the information.
    The consumer should be told why the information is being collected at the time it is gathered. That information should not be used for any other purpose or provided to anyone else without prior permission of the individual consumer.

  3. Give consumers options as to how to participate in the collection of their information.
    Consumers should have the right to make choices as to how their information is used. Consent to all uses should be clear, easy, and detailed.

  4. Provide consumers an opportunity to inspect their information.
    Consumers should have a right to easily access, inspect, and correct errors (and delete if appropriate) concerning his or her personal information.

  5. Develop quality controls, which include strict security measures.
    Collected information should be accurate, complete, timely, and relevant for the defined purpose. It should be protected from inappropriate access or corruption and safeguarded against loss or destruction.

  6. Implement standards of accountability, enforcement, and redress.
    Every business or governmental agency must be held accountable for complying with reasonable privacy procedures. Entities should conduct their own information protection audits, and provide regular information protection training for their employees. There should be effective fair information use regulations enforced by a governmental entity like the Federal Trade Commission. The creation of private civil remedies (including punitive damages and class action lawsuits) for consumers harmed by misuse of their personal information, would provide incentive for entities to comply with the fair information practices. Without legal enforcement, including a possibility of sanctions, compliance is unlikely.

MBG: Do you think there's some way that agencies and the various entities involved will ever see eye-to-eye on this problem?

M. Frank: I think collaboration among all stakeholders is essential to see eye-to-eye. The banking industry leaders should develop a commission of concerned victims, law enforcement, credit grantors, credit reporting agencies, governmental agencies, bankers, and others in a mastermind group, with technology and security support people. Each group would gain insight from the others to foster solutions. All of us agree that fraud causes losses for everyone - we are all victims of this crime.

MBG: Finally, Mari, how do you feel today about the imposter and about the future of curbing the identity problem?

M. Frank: As far as the imposter is concerned, I feel sorry for her. She has messed up her life. I hope she gets help, because she has a teenage daughter who needs her. Frankly, I have let go of any anger at her. I am more concerned with the practices and policies of governmental agencies, and the financial industry. The Government Accounting Office Report (May 1998) cites billions of dollars lost on fraud as a result of this epidemic and we know that there are at least 500,000 new victims each year. It is time for change. The financial industry has facilitated this crime unintentionally. Now it needs to take responsibility to protect personal information, which will stop the crime.

Related links: -- Mari Frank's own site - Identity Theft Prevention and Survival -- offers specific steps, expert consumer and legal information, as well as important advice. Also, consumers can see The Identity Theft Survival Kit and other self-help products, and find out ordering information. -- A comprehensive site dealing with privacy that provides thorough, up-to-date information on the basics of identity theft, relevant laws, organizations to contact, and more. -- The Federal Trade Commission has information on privacy and identity theft. Provides consumer information and research about consumer problems, including identity theft. File an online complaint at this site that provides information and training designed to help reconcile differences between consumers and businesses. Not specifically identity theft. -- You'll find fact sheets, reports, and lots of outside resources on this page, entitled "Nightmare on Credit Street." -- Check out the March, 1997 Report to Congress concerning the Availability of Consumer Identifying Information and Financial Fraud.

Could you be specific about what's in your Kit?

M. Frank:

  • The Coaching Book: From Victim To Victor - A Step-By-Step Guide To Ending the Nightmare Of Identity Theft. Includes valuable fill in the blank form letters and consumer legal information.

  • Computer Diskette: Attorney-written form letters. This saves consumers hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars.

  • Identity-Theft Prevention A Survival: Audiocassette tapes. Interviews with experts and authorities that will empower consumers with successful techniques to regain their credit, identity, and sanity.

MBG: Who did you interview for your tape series?

Beth Givens, Project Director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Author of The Privacy Rights Handbook.

James E. Bauer, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service Los Angeles Field Office. Oversees criminal investigations concerning credit fraud.

Allan A. Trosclair, Vice President, Fraud Control for Visa U.S.A. Before joining Visa, he served as a Special Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Washington, D.C.

Edmund Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director, United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). Consumer lobbyist for the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Gerald Sauer, Esq., Partner, Sauer & Wagner LLP. He served as lead trial attorney in Wenger v. TransUnion Corporation (Credit Reporting Agency) in a case which the jury awarded $200,000 to Mrs. Wenger - a Victim of Identity Theft.

Jim, Professional Airline Pilot with a major international carrier. He is a former military officer and savvy professional. Before his identity theft nightmare began, he had perfect credit. He is now living in "identity fraud hell" and fighting a seemingly never ending battle.

MBG: How can people get your Kit?

Telephone Orders: (800) 725-0807
Fax Orders (949) 363-7561
Mail Orders: Porpoise Press
28202 Cabot Road, Suite 300
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Visit our website at
Office Depot Stores - January 1999

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