A letter fills local T.J. Maxx customer with fear of identity theft

A letter fills local T.J. Maxx customer with fear of identity theft

Reach Alison Bert
4/3/2007 – Deanna Stone has always been cautious in protecting her personal information. She keeps her credit cards separate from her wallet, which holds her driver’s license and nursing license, and she never shops on the Internet.

So the nurse from New City was shocked when she received a letter yesterday from TJX Cos., the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and other discount retailers. The letter informed her that her name, address and driver’s license number may have been compromised in an intrusion into its computer system.

“It is scary,” she said. “I mean I’m just sitting here exposed to the Internet, exposed to the world, and my life is compromised,” she said. “I just don’t want my life hanging out there for somebody else.”

Stone is one of at least 46 million customers whose information may have been compromised, according to filings by Framingham, Mass.-based TJX to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Information was stolen from transactions made between January 2003 and June 28, 2004. Letters advise customers to contact the Equifax credit bureau and have a fraud alert put on their account.

While similar incidents have occurred with other companies, industry observers say this appears to be the most widespread.

Stone is concerned that someone could use her nursing license to practice under her name. But her biggest fear is identity theft – having someone assume her identity and rack up charges to her accounts, or open new accounts, destroying her credit.

“I’m married to my husband for almost 42 years, and we’ve had very good credit ratings. As soon as I get a bill, it gets paid. My nursing license is clean. My driver’s license is clean. We have no problems. We’re OK. I mean we thought we were OK,” she said.

What you should do

With identity theft on the rise, experts say, consumers should take the warning letters they receive seriously.

The most important thing is to check your credit report to make sure no one has opened an account in your name or attempted to, said John Gaccione, spokesman for the Westchester County Department of Consumer Protection. Because information is not always shared between the three major consumer credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – it’s best to contact all three. In addition to putting the companies on notice that your account information may have been compromised, check the report yourself, he said. Also, if you don’t need to establish new credit, he suggested taking advantage of a state law that allows consumers to put a “security freeze” on their accounts, meaning that no new accounts could be set up in your name.

In the case of Stone, who is concerned about information from her driver’s license and nursing license, Gaccione suggested contacting the agencies that issue the licenses to make sure none of the information is changed on them.

“What identity thieves do in a lot of cases is take your identity but change your address,” he said. “Credit’s being extended in your name (and) charges are being made in accounts that are now in your name that you never know about because they changed the address. … You don’t know until months and months later, or it could be years later.”

Those who become victims of identity theft should file a police report immediately, notify the credit reporting companies to block their credit and notify the Federal Trade Commission, he said.

“Once you file a police report and begin the process of trying to repair whatever damage was done, you’re generally not liable for the charges,” he said, “but it’s a long involved nightmarish process to get your credit corrected the way it should be.”

TJX’s response

In letters to customers, TJX urges customers to order a free credit report and look for unauthorized activity, and to review their account statements and notify their credit or debit card companies if they suspect fraud. It has also posted information on its Web site (www.tjx.com) and set up a toll-free helpline: 866-484-6978.

But Stone, who spent three hours on the phone yesterday with TJX, the credit bureaus and the state Department of Motor Vehicles, isn’t satisfied.

“You’re not talking to a person. That’s what I really get offended with,” she said. “They’re sending you this letter, and they’re saying, ‘Oh, we’re doing everything possible,’ but it’s a piece of paper, and I’m talking to ‘Press this, press that, or say 1 or say 2, what category?’ I’m not a category – I’m a person, and I feel violated.”

Reach Alison Bert at abert@lohud.com or 914-694-5085.

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