If you're new to Seattle and moving into a house or apartment May 1, you could end up with a very dark, cold home if you don't have photo identification.
Starting May 1, a federal law aimed at thwarting identify theft will require anyone who wants to open a utility account with the city, a private utility, or even a phone company to appear in person with photo identification.
In the past, homeowners and renters could turn on the lights or change the name on a water bill account with just a phone call. To start new service with the city, they will now have to go to an office of City Light or Seattle Public
Utilities or one of seven neighborhood service centers, where a range of state or federal identification cards -- from driver's licenses to passports to resident alien cards -- will be accepted, says Katherine Schubert-Knapp, a spokesperson with the city's Department of Executive Administration.
The change is the result of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, which was passed in 2003 as an amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.
The FACT Act gave consumers the right to get a free copy of their credit report each year from each of the national credit-reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. But it also set a deadline of Nov. 1, 2008 for finance companies to create a so-called "red flags program" aimed at detecting and preventing the theft of their customers' personal data.
In October of last year, after various industries expressed confusion over how to comply, the Federal Trade Commission said it would wait until May 1 to start enforcing the rules, which will require consumers to not only show ID when they open an account with a phone company or utility, but each time they visit a doctor.
According to FTC literature, examples of red flags include a service address that doesn't match what the credit bureaus list as an applicant's last address -- a discrepancy that could be common among low-income people who frequently move. As a result, Department of Neighborhoods Director Stella Chao told members of the City Council last week, the law could create barriers.
The city estimates that its neighborhood centers -- located in Ballard, the Central District, Delridge, Lake City, the University District and southeastern and West Seattle -- will have to validate the identities of about 30 people a day seeking new utility accounts, Schubert-Knapp says.
Notarized applications and landlord affidavits will be accepted for those who are unable to open a City Light or utility account in person. If someone is a tenant and cannot provide photo identification, or a notarized application or landlord affidavit, the account can be opened in the property owner's/landlord's name. More information is available on the City's Web site: http://www.seattle.gov/executiveadministration/FACTACT.htm.