Don’t Let Identity Thieves Steal Your Holiday Spirit

It might be the season of giving, but a new survey shows a majority of Americans are actually worried about what might be taken from them. According to new research by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 57 percent of U.S. adults say they are concerned about being a victim of identity theft during the holiday season and 66 percent believe they are more at risk when making purchases online.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 8.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2005. Every year, victims of identity theft struggle to recoup financial losses and repair damages to their credit standing. To alleviate the burdens — which include out-of-pocket costs, lost wages and other expenses associated with reestablishing lost credit and/or identity — several companies offer identity theft insurance. There are also simple precautions everyone should take to avoid becoming a victim.
“Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, affecting consumers of all ages,” said NAIC President and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. “It’s critical for consumers to know how to protect themselves and reduce the risk of becoming a victim.”

The NAIC’s national survey, which polled a nationally representative sample of 500 adults, age 18 and older, from Nov. 16-22, 2007, also shows:

— If seeking insurance coverage for identity theft, 38 percent of
respondents said they would look to insurance companies, 34 percent
said they would look to credit card companies and 27 percent said they
would look to banks.

— 32 percent said they were victims or knew someone who had been a victim
of identity theft in the past five years. Of those consumers:
— 46 percent said their identity theft exceeded $1,000.
— 42 percent said it took three months or longer to resolve the
problem.
“Repairing the damages caused by identity theft can be a lengthy, financially straining process,” said NAIC Executive Vice President and CEO Catherine J. Weatherford. “Taking precautions can save time, money and stress during the busy holiday shopping season and year-round.”

Understanding the Basics of Identity Theft
Identity theft, sometimes referred to as identity fraud, is a crime that involves someone using your personal information — such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other financial account information — without your permission to commit fraud and/or other crimes.

Identity theft occurs in many forms, such as someone using your stolen personal information to apply for loans or purchase items using your credit card number, along with many other fraudulent activities.

The NAIC offers the following tips to help consumers protect their identity.
NAIC Tips to Protect Your Identity

1. Know what’s in your wallet. Avoid carrying your Social Security number
in your wallet or purse. This number provides access to personal
information, and it should be stored in a safe and protected place. In
addition, only carry the credit cards you need. This practice limits
access to your accounts in the event that your purse or wallet is lost
or stolen. It’s also a good idea to periodically photocopy your cards
and keep a record of the customer service phone numbers associated with
your financial accounts to speed up the process of canceling credit
cards, if needed.

2. Shred, Shred, Shred. Open all mail and read it carefully — even the
items that might appear to be junk mail could contain personal offers.
Any items with personal information, such as pre-approved credit
offers, bank statements or utility bills should be shredded before
being discarded.

3. Be suspicious of solicitors. You should never give personal information
or your Social Security number to people unless you have verified that
they are trustworthy. This advice applies to sharing information over
the phone, in-store or online.

4. Monitor your revolving accounts and credit score. Check your bank,
credit card and other financial account information, along with your
credit score, once a year to reduce the risk of unauthorized charges or
credit applications. If you see a suspicious charge, immediately
contact your financial institution.

5. Take action against unauthorized actions. If you notice a new account
has been opened in your name without your permission, immediately
contact one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian or
TransUnion — and ask that a “fraud alert” be placed on your record.
Once the alert is placed, the other two bureaus will be notified, and
creditors will be required to contact you directly before opening new
accounts or making changes to existing accounts. In addition, file a
police report and submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
You also might consider enrolling in paid services that monitor your
credit report and alert you when someone applies for credit in your
name or account information is altered.

6. Surf the Internet Safely. Millions of people are online at any given
time, some of whom are thieves looking to steal your identity. These
hackers can be found collecting information from unsuspecting “pop-
ups,” surfing unsecured networks or hacking into retail Web sites. Be
sure to always use a secured network, and frequently update firewall
protections on your computer. Also limit the amount of personal
information you post on networking Web sites.

7. Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. Several insurance
companies offer identity theft insurance. Although it cannot protect
you from becoming a victim of identity theft, this insurance provides
coverage for the cost of reclaiming your financial identity, such as
the expenses of placing phone calls, making copies, mailing documents,
taking time off from work without pay and hiring an attorney. As with
any insurance policy, make sure you understand what you are purchasing
and compare prices, coverages and deductibles among multiple insurers.

ABOUT THE NAIC

Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is a voluntary organization of the chief insurance regulatory officials of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. The NAIC’s overriding objective is to assist state insurance regulators in protecting consumers and helping maintain the financial stability of the insurance industry by offering financial, actuarial, legal, computer, research, market conduct and economic expertise. Formed in 1871, the NAIC is the oldest association of state officials. For more than 135 years, state-based insurance supervision has served the needs of consumers, industry and the business of insurance at-large by ensuring hands- on, frontline protection for consumers, while providing insurers the uniform platforms and coordinated systems they need to compete effectively in an ever- changing marketplace. For more information, visit NAIC on the Web at http://www.naic.org/press_home.htm

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