- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Visa International will introduce a new company policy today that prohibits the display of all but the last four digits of a credit-card number on consumer receipts, a move intended to better protect customers' privacy.
Carl F. Pascarella, president of Visa's U.S. division, will announce the policy on Capitol Hill. He will be joined by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and other sponsors of a bill that would make Visa's new policy mandatory for other credit-card companies.
In addition to blocking out most of a customer's credit-card account number, Visa will also remove the account's expiration date from receipts.
"Many identity thieves get their information from the garbage. Customers throw receipts away, not thinking about the valuable information they contain. This will help prevent that," said Rhonda Bentz, a Visa spokeswoman.
The cost of implementing the policy and the date it will take effect probably will be discussed at today's press conference, she said.
Visa has more than 1 billion credit cards in circulation, making it the world's largest consumer payment system. The company is owned by 21,000 financial institutions, each of which issues and markets its own Visa cards.
A spokesman for MasterCard Inc., the nation's second-largest credit-card company, did not return telephone calls.
Identity thieves steal personal information such as credit-card numbers, Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers and then open accounts in the victim's name. In some cases, thieves use the personal information to charge goods and services to the accounts.
Identity theft has led the list of the 10 most common complaints to the Federal Trade Commission every year since 2000. The commission handled about 380,000 complaints in 2002, and 43 percent were for identity theft.
Some merchants already block out digits in a credit-card number on customer receipts. The bill pushed by Mrs. Feinstein would prohibit new credit-card machines from printing the complete account number or the expiration date of cards on the receipts.
Older machines would have to be retrofitted to comply with the new law within four years of its enactment.
"It's a smart idea, and it's long overdue," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group in Washington that pushes for legislation to protect consumers' privacy rights.
Mrs. Feinstein's bill, dubbed the Identity Theft Protection Act, would also entitle consumers to one free credit report a year from a credit bureau, penalize credit-card companies that issue new cards to identity thieves, and require card companies to notify customers when an address change or other activity on their account suggests potential fraud.
"We are heartened by the fact that Visa is complying with this on a voluntary basis. We hope it sets a new standard for the industry," said Howard Gantman, Mrs. Feinstein's spokesman.
Adam Goldberg, a policy analyst for the Consumers Union, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the proposed legislation is "common sense. We use credit cards so much in our society. It just makes sense to try to mask the numbers as much as possible."

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