Since September 2005, the three major consumer credit reporting agencies have been required to provide upon request free annual credit reports. So, to see what the agencies have on record, I sent many of my personally-identifying characteristics through a secure Internet connection in exchange for comprehensive reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.After giving up my name, Social Security number, date of birth and last two addresses, I was then invited to each of the three reporting agencies' sites, one at a time.
The first time, I was challenged to answer a question about my current financial picture, i.e."To which bank do you write a loan check every month?" and "How much is the monthly payment?" Those answers I know quite well. With that, I gained admittance to the first agency's site, where I was able to download a rather comprehensive picture of my financial history.
At the second identity challenge, I was asked the street number of a prior address. Between various jobs, schools and internships, I've lived at almost a dozen addresses - some for just a few months - and I'm supposed to remember the street numbers for each one? I had already given that part of my brain over to the mixture for a mint julep.
Fortunately, I had a cheat sheet. I merely checked the report from the first provider to supply answers for the other two providers. And to be honest, I needed the help. But the process did leave a nagging sense of vulnerability, in that the personal data required to obtain a full dossier on someone seems insufficient compared to the prize. And what a prize! The heavyweight Equifax report clocked in at 28 pages, dwarfing Experian's 16 pages and TransUnion's lightweight seven-page report. Laden with data, I can't say that any of them were particularly shining examples of information design, but you get what you pay for.
I can now be reasonably certain that my identity has not yet been stolen. But in ascertaining that, I now have over 50 pages of sensitive data which someone could use against me. Time to feed the shredder.