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Cheating on the ID Challenge

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.

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.

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