State consumer advocates urged Maryland residents yesterday to take advantage of free annual credit reports - which are the first step in combating reporting errors and the rising problem of identity fraud - before a new federal law gives the same access to millions of Americans in December.
Maryland is one of seven states that allow residents to obtain free credit reports. When the new law takes affect, it might overload credit reporting agencies and delay the delivery and correction of errors, said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. "Before the rest of the country has what you now have, use your right to get this information in a matter of days," Curran said.
Identity theft is a widespread problem throughout the country. According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 10 million Americans are victims of identity theft annually. That's roughly the population of Michigan. Last year, Maryland ranked 11th among states on the FTC's list of identity theft victims per 100,000 population.
About a quarter of credit reports contain errors serious enough to result in denial of credit, according to a study by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. The study found that nearly 80 percent of credit reports contained errors.
Many people don't realize that their credit reports contain errors until they are turned down for a loan or an apartment, said Gigi Kellett, a public interest advocate for MaryPIRG.
Natarajan Subramanian of Oxon Hill has been denied credit cards, car loans and mortgages because of errors on his credit reports. Subramanian said some credit agencies have listed him as dead and that he had to complain to get the error fixed. A short time later, the same error recurred.
"I have died at least four times according to my credit reports," Subramanian said. His case is being investigated as possible identity theft.
People age 50 and older are particularly vulnerable to identity theft, said Frank Bailey, state director of AARP, because they typically have significant amounts of credit and family members or so-called friends who can use their funds inappropriately, he said.
"Older Marylanders should treat their financial health in the same manner they treat their physical health," Bailey said.