Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Identity Theft and Republican Obstructionism

Recently I had two experiences that brought home to me in a very personal way just how important government regulation is and just how little the Republican Congress cares about ordinary people.

The first experience was an identity theft. Someone got my credit card number and my social security number and tried to make a couple of large purchases. The person failed to gain anything for a curious reason. They gave the credit card company a wrong birth date. The curious part was that they gave the credit card company my actual birth date, but the credit card company had a different, incorrect date. So the credit card company turned them down when they tried to steal some money.

So far, so good, but the credit card company also turned me down when I tried to use my credit card. Of course, I had the actual date of my birth and so they turned down my request. I went to the bank to straighten things out and discovered the only thing I could do was close my bank account and cancel my credit card. The bank then transferred the money from my old account to a new one and sold me identity theft insurance in case the criminals tried again, or someone else got hold of my personal information and tried to defraud the bank again.

This process took me most of an afternoon and scared the life out of me. The perpetrators will never be caught. They didn't take my money but they did take my time and my disturb my peace of mind.

The second experience was even more frightening. I answered the phone and was told by a voice at the other end of the line that I owed the IRS thousands of dollars and a policeman was on his way to arrest me. He offered to help me out if I would send him some money to pay off the debt. Just imagine what you would do if someone told you you were about to be arrested. Even though I knew I owed nothing to the IRS and the whole story was fraudulent, there was still a chance that I might be arrested. I hung up on the con artist and paid him nothing.

I am not an immigrant, and I have a fairly good understanding of the law, but the call upset me. I have a last name that sounds foreign, which may have been why I became a target of this fraud. An undocumented worker, who lives in dread of the police knocking on his or her door, may have been convinced that they had to pay up or be deported.

I decided to report the telephone fraud to the government. I soon discovered that the agency responsible for this type of consumer fraud is the Consumer Protection Agency. I gave them my information and never heard back from them.

The Consumer Protection Agency is a whipping boy for Republicans in congress. They held up approving the President's nomination to head the agency for over a year. They also assured the President that they would never permit Elizabeth Warren to head the agency, even though she was responsible for  getting the agency set up and is one of our foremost experts on consumer fraud.

Consumer fraud is rampant. Identity theft is a very serious issue for the millions of Americans who have been affected by it, sometimes disastrously. If a person gives cash to a con artist, that money is gone. An individual has no way to protect him or herself. None at all. Sure, you can refuse to give money, but you can't prevent someone from stealing your identity. Millions of people recently had their credit accounts hacked when they made a purchase at Target.

The Consumer Protection Agency was created to protect us. The Republicans have tried to make it fail. Their efforts mean that more con artists are making more cons and more consumers are getting fleeced. Much of the money stolen by the con artists is repaid by insurance companies, but we, the consumers, are the ones who end up paying in prices that are increased to pay higher insurance premiums.

There must be some tipping point where the people of this country will get mad enough that the politicians stop playing games and start doing their jobs. I hope it comes soon.

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