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Dr. Greg Segment Summary

Employers Offer Help with Identity Theft

Dr. Greg Ketchum, 06/10/06

Identity theft has been in the news with the recent revelation that the personal data of 26.5 million veterans and some of their spouses was stolen from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Well, now according to the Wall Street Journal some companies are offering “identity-theft resolution services” to their employees as a benefit figuring it will reduce the time an employee spends at work resolving identity theft and will potentially protect the company from liability lawsuits. In addition, some insurance companies are now offering identity-theft protection as part of their homeowner’s insurance policies.

Now identity theft can take place when someone else uses your credit cards or bank accounts or worse when they use your personal information to open up new credit accounts. Just how big a problem is identity theft? Well take a look at these figures.

  1. 80 Million: Since early 2005 over 80 million people have had their personal data put at risk as a result of data breaches like the one at the VA.

  2. 27.3 Million: In a 2003 study the FTC found that 27.3 million Americans had been the victims of identity theft in the previous 5 years.

  3. $53 Billion: Those 27.3 million thefts resulted in $48 billion in losses to businesses and $5 billion to consumers.

How is it possible that thieves can get access to so many people’s personal information? Well here are some of the top ways they do it.

  1. Dumpster Diving: Thieves go through your trash looking for old bills that have your personal information on them.

  2. Phishing: Thieves pretend to be companies and send emails or pop-up messages to have you reveal your personal information.

  3. Browsing Government Websites: Thieves can pull up documents like divorce filings and real estate transactions to get your personal information including scans of your signature.

  4. Stealing or Diverting Mail: Thieves can put in a change of address to divert your mail or just simply steal it.

  5. Copying Credit Card Magnetic Strips: Thieves use machines that hotels have to recode room keys. The bogus card charges to the victim’s account, but the name on the card matches the person’s driver’s license.

So what do you do to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity-theft? Here are three action steps for you.

  1. Order a Copy of Your Credit Report: Federal law mandates that you can request a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies once a year. Check it over for suspicious activity.

  2. Protect Your Social Security Number: Above all, don’t carry your SS card in your wallet. Keep it in a safe place. Don’t use it as an identifier unless you are sure of the source asking for it.

  3. Tear Up Documents Before you Toss Them: Tear up anything that has identifying information on it. Be sure to tear up those credit card offers.

Finally, if all else fails and you do become a victim of identity-theft immediately place a “fraud alert” on your account with the three major credit-reporting agencies.  In addition, notify your local police and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. In the old days the main thing we worried about was someone stealing your wallet or your keys. Now they can steal your very identity and that requires a whole new level of vigilance. The old Boy Scout Motto really applies here, “Be Prepared.”


®2006 Gregory A. Ketchum, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Greg is the “KRON 4 (San Francisco) Workplace and Career Expert”

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