Protection Tips for You and Your Employees
You can, and should, be
proactive in educating your employees about
identity theft. Below are 15 simple steps that every person should take
to help protect themselves from ID theft.
Identity theft has been all over the news lately as more
revealed that their databases have been breached and consumer
personal information has been lost or stolen. In the last month alone,
two major losses involving 44 million consumer files were reported by
CardSystems Solutions, a third-party processor of credit card payment
information for MasterCard and other credit card issuers, and
CitiFinancial, the consumer finance division of Citigroup.
HR Matters E-Tips has reported on the importance of protecting your
employees' sensitive personal information to prevent ID theft twice in
last three months (in the March 15, 2005 and May 10, 2005 issues). In
both of those issues, we provided several tips for guarding your
employees' information and disposing of it properly.
In this week's E-Tips, we are deviating from our usual format of
on employment law compliance issues and instead are providing 15
relatively simple, yet important, tips that all people can take to
their own identities. ID theft can significantly disrupt employees'
and result in lost workdays, so HR professionals should be proactive and
help employees protect themselves.
We hope that you will pass this information along to your employees by
forwarding this E-Tips. Or, if you would like to reprint the tips in
own organization's newsletter, just email Robin Thomas at
email@example.com, and she will gladly grant you permission to do
The Extent of ID Theft
Just how many people have been victims of ID theft is a matter of some
debate. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in 2003, in a
survey commissioned specifically to analyze ID theft trends, that almost
10 million Americans were the victims of some form of ID theft in 2003.
However, the FTC also reported that it had received just over 246,000
direct complaints of ID theft in 2004.
Other groups put the estimates even higher. According to a survey just
issued by Privacy and American Business, a nonprofit and nonpartisan
public policy think tank, some 20% of Americans have been victims of ID
theft, indicating a total of more than 44 million people.
Whatever the true number of people affected, most experts agree that
the number is growing and that the effects of ID theft are expensive and
time-consuming. A 2003 survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center
found that victims of ID theft spent an average of 600 hours and $1,495
out-of-pocket expenses to resolve the thefts.
There is some good news in these somewhat depressing statistics,
though. You can take some relatively simple steps to protect your
identity and minimize the possibility and consequences of theft.
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15 Steps to Protect Your Identity *
1. Lock up your social security card, birth certificate, passport, and
other personal IDs that contain sensitive information. Do not carry
items with you (except when absolutely necessary, such as to travel to a
foreign country) or keep them in areas accessible to workers in your
2. Do not give out your social security number (SSN) unless
absolutely necessary. Ask for a different identifying number if the SSN
being used (such as for a state driver's license).
3. Destroy all documents containing personally identifying
information when you dispose of them. In particular, make sure to
destroy bank and credit card statements, expired credit cards, old tax
documents, health insurance forms, medical records, and utility bills.
you use a shredder, use one that cross shreds for the best destruction.
4. Shred all credit card and mortgage offers. ID thieves can use
them to apply for credit in your name. Better yet, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT
(1-888-567-8688) to opt out of receiving offers of credit based on your
5. Limit the number of credit cards you have and cancel all card
accounts that you do not currently use. The fewer cards you have, the
easier it is to keep track of them.
6. Check credit card and bank statements each month as soon as
they arrive or are available online. This is the best way to detect any
unauthorized use, plus most credit card companies and financial
institutions only allow you to challenge mistakes for a set period of
typically 60 days. Also, ask credit card companies not to send you
"convenience" checks that could easily be stolen.
7. Limit use of debit cards attached to your bank accounts. For
example, do not use them at restaurants (or anywhere else that they
leave your sight) or for online transactions. Federal law, bank
and debit card issuers generally protect against most debit card losses,
but the extent of the protection varies. And, as a practical matter,
bank account could be emptied before you can stop unauthorized
transactions, leaving you with no cash at least for a period of time.
8. Pick up new checks at the bank instead of having them sent to
9. Keep an eye on your mail. Deposit outgoing mail in post office
collection boxes, don't put it in your home mailbox if it is unsecured,
promptly remove delivered mail. Stop mail delivery when you go on
10. Check your credit report regularly to look for unauthorized credit
applications. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA),
the same law that requires employers to properly dispose of consumer
reports created by third parties, gives every person a free annual
report. Free reports are being phased in from West to East, but
everyone will be able to get one beginning September 1, 2005. To get
yours, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free
11. Do not respond to unsolicited email asking for personal
information – so-called "phishing" and "pharming" schemes. Thieves
often will send out emails that appear to be from legitimate entities,
as banks, asking you to provide personal information, account
information, and passwords. Some even direct you to provide the info on
"secure" fake Web sites that look authentic, using corporate logos, etc.
As a practical note, your bank or credit card issuer typically will not
out emails to ask for this type of information. If you really think it
from your bank, call them directly, but do not use a number provided on
12. Protect your home computer. Use, and update regularly, virus
and firewall protections to prevent outside access to your computer.
Also, use "strong" passwords to protect your financial and other
information that mix letters and numbers. Do not use common identifiers
like your mother's maiden name or your birth date. In addition, change
passwords regularly for added protection and keep any written record of
your passwords in a secure place, not on your computer.
13. Destroy all personal and financial information on your computers
before discarding or giving them away. Simply deleting files is not
enough. You need to erase the files using special data destruction
14. Immediately report any losses of personal identification and
credit cards. For example, close credit card accounts and contact your
state's drivers' license agency to flag your file so no one else can
for a driver's license in your name.
15. Consider purchasing special ID theft protection. ID theft
protection plans typically monitor your credit report and report any
suspicious activity. In the event of a theft, the best plans will help
file reports, dispute unauthorized activity, and restore your identity.
While experts analyzing the ID theft statistics can't seem to agree on
how many people have been affected by ID theft (millions or thousands),
they do all seem to label it as the fastest growing white collar crime.
And most experts also agree that tracking down ID theft and repairing
your credit can take hundreds of hours of your time, result in lost
workdays, and cause stress. So, make sure to protect yourself by taking
the 15 simple actions recommended above.
Also, just as importantly, if you become a victim of ID theft, take
quickly. You still can limit the damage by taking immediate steps to
banks and creditors about the theft. The FTC recommends ID theft
victims have the following four actions taken on their behalf
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports to prevent thieves from
opening more accounts in your name by calling one of the three major
report companies, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
2. Close all accounts that you know, or think, have been affected.
3. File a police report to register the theft with your local
4. File a complaint with the FTC to help law enforcement agencies
track down identity thieves and spot trends. The FTC also may be able
to refer you to other agencies that can help you.
For further tips and information on ID theft or to file a complaint,
FTC on its Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or call the FTC's ID
Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Identity Theft Shield