Movie 'Firewall' dramatizes dangers of ID theft

Watch any recent movie or television series with a scene involving computers and you'll often find that the software programs used by the characters look pretty slick but aren't very realistic. Not so with the new Warner Bros. film Firewall, a bank-heist thriller that stars Harrison Ford and opens this week in theaters nationwide.

In the movie, Ford's character, banking security expert Jack Stanfield, is a victim of identity theft by perpetrators who want to force his assistance in a US$100 million theft. A Web site of credit-monitoring service Equifax is featured in a scene in which Stanfield checks his online credit report.

The Web site Stanfield consults -- and finds a US$95,000 collection notice for a gambling debt he says he didn't incur -- is for Equifax's Credit Watch online products, where real consumers can go to monitor their own credit records to protect themselves from data theft, according to Steve Ely, group executive of Equifax Personal Solutions.

The service, available in three levels, allows subscribers to receive e-mail notifications if inquiries are made about their creditworthiness by banks, credit card companies or retailers. If the subscriber applied for credit, he can ignore the alerts. But if the subscriber didn't apply for credit, he can contact Equifax or log into the site to find out what activities are taking place involving his records.

"You have all kinds of stuff like this in the news virtually every day now," Ely said, referring to identity and data theft cases. "People need to monitor it, to stay on top of it and make sure it's accurate."

Representatives from the film production company contacted Atlanta-based Equifax early last year seeking advice on how to make the identity theft scene as realistic as possible, Ely said. Equifax did not pay for product placement in the movie, he added.

Originally, the script proposed that Ford's character would look at the Equifax online reporting service and find a US$95,000 gambling debt on his credit report, but that was technically inaccurate, Ely said.

Instead, the script was changed from the debt itself showing up on the credit report to a collections notice appearing on the report for an overdue debt. "The concept is realistic," Ely said.

Equifax Credit Watch is priced at US$49.95 a year for weekly alerts of credit activity, US$99.95 for daily alert coverage and US$129 for daily alerts using data from all three major credit reporting vendors: Equifax and competitors TransUnion and Experian North America. All three companies maintain credit histories on U.S. consumers that are used by lenders and other businesses for a variety of purposes.

Credit-monitoring services are often offered by companies to their customers for free when personal data has been compromised through theft, hackers or other losses.

With the Credit Watch services, consumers can watch their credit files and quickly catch wrongdoing, Ely said. "You can stop an identity thief in his tracks right away, before he's able to do anymore damage," he said.

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