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Tim Leslie - Contributor

Tim Leslie represents California’s 4th Assembly District.

Prying Eyes Want to Know
Keeping your private life private...
[Tim Leslie] 12/11/03

It was not long ago that a lost wallet was nothing more than an inconvenience. A few lost dollars and some phone calls to the credit card companies posed a hassle but generally resolved the problem. These days, however, a lost wallet presents a far more sinister predicament.

Since the dawn of the Information Age, the wallet has become a treasure trove of information, a dossier of everything a thief needs to know to steal a victim’s identity. Credit cards, Social Security Cards, and drivers’ licenses all contain information thieves can use to assume the identity of a perfect stranger, ruining their credit rating, running up huge tabs and smearing that person’s reputation. And it is not just consumers’ wallets that are at risk.

Mailboxes and trashcans have increasingly become a source for identity thieves attempting to harvest personal information for their own underhanded uses. They raid mailboxes and trash looking for any information-laden document such as pre-approved credit card offers, old receipts, and bank statements. It is an easy way to rob unsuspecting individuals of their identity.

In addition, the technologies that add so much to our lives have also opened new doors for stealing information. With new technologies always emerging (such as the ability to capture information off the Internet), lawmakers often find themselves playing a game of catch up to all the new threats posed by these advancements. Furthermore, because it is largely anchored in anonymous technology, identity theft is a very difficult crime for law enforcement to stop.

The Legislature plays an important role in the fight to protect individuals’ privacy amidst the ever-changing world of the Information Age. In recent years, I have carried a large number of measures that now help safeguard Californian’s private information and deliver stiff penalties to information thieves.

But still, crooks are a crafty bunch. They are always looking for new ways to exploit technology and take advantage of the unsuspecting. The front lines of protecting personal information will always be with us, the consumers. If we are to keep our personal information from becoming the identity of some thief, we must remain diligent. A few simple steps can do a lot of good towards guarding against information theft:

1. Remove your name from credit reporting agency lists so that you do not receive marketing offers or pre-approved credit offers. You can do this by calling 888-567-8688.
2. Obtain copies of your credit report on an annual basis from the three major credit reporting agencies. You can find out more about this by visiting the agencies’ websites at,, and
3. Do not simply throw away sensitive documents and mail. Tear or shred your charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, expired charge cards, and preapproved credit offers. Shredders cost between $30-250.
4. Mail: It is a good idea to place mail in your mailbox the day you wish it to be picked up, or if time permits, to personally deliver it to the post office. If you plan to go away, call the US Postal Service at 800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.

For other useful tips, please visit California’s Office of Privacy at It is important that all Californians remain diligent in protecting their personal data, and not rely completely on the law. While these tips are not foolproof, they do offer a good first defense against would-be identity thieves.




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