STILL WAITING FOR A BILL THAT should have already arrived? Did you receive a credit card you didn't apply for? Are you being denied credit for no apparent reason? If so, you may be at risk of becoming the latest victim of identity theft, but a new law helps victims fight back.
The Federal Trade Commission says 9.9 million Americans were victims last year. In addition to losses of more than $47 billion for businesses and financial institutions, identity theft cost consumer victims $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses.
"In an age when information about individuals can be found easily, sold easily, abused easily, government must act to protect individual privacy," said President Bush while signing the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 into law.
The legislation provides Americans with the right to one free copy of their credit report each year and requires merchants to delete all but the last five digits of credit card numbers on receipts-a practice already adopted by many retailers. Also, victims now need to make just one phone call to receive advice and set off a nationwide fraud alert.
To avoid being a victim, the FTC cautions consumers to leave their Social Security card at home, to shred papers with personal information (especially credit card offers) before throwing them away, and to be meticulous when providing personal information on the phone, online, or through the mail.
Where's the beef?
IT's hard to fathom one sick cow sending shockwaves through a $175 billion industry, but that's exactly what's happened since a slaughtered Holstein in eastern Washington tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy-mad cow disease-last month.
The first U.S. case of BSE prompted nearly 30 nations to ban U.S. beef imports, including Japan and South Korea, two of the biggest buyers of American beef. Already, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented stiffer regulations for slaughtering sick animals and will kill 450 cows at a Sunnyside, Wash., farm because the herd contains a month-old offspring of the slaughtered Holstein.
Will it be enough? "A lot depends on the results of the investigation," said Lynn Heinze, a spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation. "Current leads indicate this was a Canadian animal infected before it was imported. If that's the case, the U.S. would be considered BSE-free."
That may not ease the fears of those concerned that BSE-infected beef has been linked to 130 deaths in Britain since 1996. "One-half or more of Europeans have quit eating beef," said Ms. Heinze. "But Canadian and U.S. consumers seem to understand the disease comes only from eating the brain or spinal cord tissue of an infected animal. It's not contagious and there's not a lot of human health concerns."
A late spending surge boosted December sales for many merchants, offering relief in a holiday season projected to be only modestly better than 2002. MasterCard Advisors, a unit of MasterCard International, said total sales were up 6.5 percent from Nov. 28 through Dec. 24, compared with a year ago. Internet and catalog sales also rose 6.5 percent while consumer electronics and appliance store sales were up 6.7 percent. But department store sales fell 1.4 percent and sales at toy stores declined 7.7 percent.
The Navy awarded Boeing a $9.6 billion contract to build 210 F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters from 2005 to 2009 although the company is under investigation by the Pentagon for its recruitment of an Air Force official who was overseeing government contracts at the time. In the last month, Boeing CFO Michael Sears was fired and the company's chairman and chief executive, Phil Condit, resigned.
Shipping giant FedEx Corp. agreed to buy copy shop chain Kinko's for $2.4 billion, a move to help FedEx compete with rival UPS. The deal means that FedEx will operate in Kinko's 1,200 stores across the United States and abroad. UPS bought Kinko's competitor, Mail Boxes Etc., in 2001 and changed the name of 3,300 storefronts to The UPS Store. No decision has been made on whether Kinko's stores will keep their name.