Insurance tips for Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month
The holidays are quickly approaching and the retail season is in full swing. It is the busiest shopping season of the year, which means your personal information may be at a greater risk of falling into the wrong hands. In fact, the Identity Theft Resource Center says it gets more calls about lost and stolen wallets between November and December than any other time of year.
December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month, so it’s important for consumers and businesses to take steps in deterring identity theft. Around 8.3 million Americans discovered they were victims of some sort of identity theft in 2005, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The 2006 Identity Fraud Report estimated the average cost for each identity theft victim was more than $6,300, costing U.S businesses and consumers a total of $56.6 billion.
There are many steps Ohioans can take to protect themselves against identity theft. First, consumers and business owners should contact their independent insurance agent to see if identity theft insurance is right for them. Some insurance companies even include it as part of their homeowners insurance policy, while others sell it as a stand alone policy or as an endorsement to a homeowners or renters insurance policy.
On average, individual policies cost between $25 and $50 for $15,000 to $25,000 of coverage and provide reimbursements for expenses such as phone bills, lost wages, notary and certified mailing costs, and sometimes attorney fees. Business policies vary in cost, but usually cover the expenses associated with legal defense, loss notification, restoration of business reputation and identity theft assistance.
To protect themselves during the holiday shopping season, consumers should take extra precautions. These include watching for “shoulder surfing” when paying for items, keeping credit card receipts in purses or wallets instead of purchase bags, keeping copies of all orders placed online, watching for purse snatchers and pickpockets, and locking important items such as laptops or purses in a car trunk instead of leaving them visible to potential thieves.
Businesses must also be responsible custodians of the information their customers entrust to them. The FTC offers the following five tips to help businesses protect personal information.
1. Take stock. Inventory all computers, laptops, flash drives, disks, home computers and other equipment to find out where your company stores sensitive data. Also pay attention to how you keep personally identifying information such as Social Security numbers, credit card or financial information, and other sensitive data. Thieves are most likely to use this information to commit fraud or identity theft.
2. Scale down. If you don’t have a legitimate business need for sensitive personally identifying information, don’t keep it. Use Social Security numbers only for required and lawful purposes, and don’t retain customer credit card information unless you have an essential business need for it.
3. Lock it. Make sure the information you do need is well protected. This can be as simple as locking a file cabinet or requiring employees to store laptops in a secure area.
4. Pitch it. It’s essential to properly dispose of the information your business no longer needs. You can effectively dispose of paper records by using shredders, which should be made available throughout the workplace, including next to the photocopier. Using wipe utility programs when disposing of old computers and portable storage devices also helps protect sensitive data.
5. Plan ahead. Taking steps to protect data can help prevent security breaches, but it’s still important to be prepared in case a breach does take place. Have a plan in place and designate a senior member of your staff to coordinate and implement the response plan.
The FTC also provides extensive resources for consumers and businesses, including the AvoID Theft Consumer Education Kit and the Protecting Personal Information: A Guide for Business booklet with the five tips listed above. These resources are available for download at www.gtc.gov/idtheft. You can also call 1-877-ID-THEFT for more information.
Those who are victimized by identity theft should contact the Identity Theft Verification Passport Program at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The program provides victims a method of demonstrating to law enforcement and creditors that their identity has been stolen. Visit www.ag.state.oh.us or call 1 (888) MY-ID-4-ME to learn more.
Scott Nein is the CEO of Independent Insurance Agents of Ohio (Ohio Big “I”). Founded in 1897, the Ohio Big “I” is a trade association representing the independent insurance agents throughout Ohio and is affiliated with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA). www.ohiobigi.com.