Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
Survey From FindLaw Finds Most Americans Already Taking Some Steps
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Mar. 14, 2003 Identity theft is a crime on the rise, and its damage can take a long time to repair. A new national survey finds that most Americans are taking at least some steps to protect themselves from identity theft.
Ninety-eight percent of American adults take one or more precautions to guard their personal information, according to a new national survey conducted by FindLaw. According to the survey of 1,000 American adults, the most common identity theft prevention measures people use are:
Review bank/credit card statements for fraud 88% Shred/destroy credit card receipts or other financial documents 77% Check credit reports 64% Never give out Social Security number 51%
Such precautions are not unwarranted. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the number of identity theft complaints nearly doubled last year from 86,000 in 2001 to 162,000 in 2002. Last year, identity theft accounted for 43 percent of the complaints in a government database of fraud. Last month, a computer hacker stole nearly 8 million account numbers from a credit card company.
"Identities can be easily stolen in several different ways," said Kevin Cronin, a partner at the Philadelphia law firm Blank Rome LLP specializing in information technology law. "Methods range from the obvious, such as stealing your wallet, to more complicated methods, such as ordering unauthorized credit reports by posing as a landlord or potential employer, or using phony telemarketing schemes to con you into giving your personal information," added Cronin, who co-authored with Ron Weikers a recent book, Data Security and Privacy Law: Combating Cyberthreats, published by legal publisher West.
"Your personal information is an important asset and should be strongly protected," said Weikers, a data security expert whose law firm handles software licensing and litigation matters for clients across the country, and provides data security and privacy compliance counseling. "Taking a few extra minutes and some simple steps could save time down the road that would be spent repairing your reputation and credit record." If a thief uses your identity to charge items on a credit card, you'll likely be responsible for only $50 or possibly nothing. In terms of time and energy, though, you may spend months dealing with credit agencies, financial institutions and police departments trying to clear your name and repair any damage. In addition, victims usually have to take time to write letters, make calls and collect evidence. In some cases, an attorney's help may be necessary to undo the damage caused by identity theft.
In addition to the precautions mentioned by survey respondents, FindLaw suggests other precautions people can take, including:
- Change passwords and PINs regularly
- Order a credit report at least once a year
- Shred any offers of pre-approved credit that they don't intend to use
- Never reveal personally identifiable information to companies that solicit by telephone or e-mail
- Thoroughly review credit card statements and bills from phone and utility companies.
Other valuable tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft, information on cybersecurity and identity theft laws, and help finding an attorney specializing in identity theft can be found on legal Web sites such as FindLaw® (www.findlaw.com).
The national survey used a representative sample of 1000 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
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FindLaw (www.findlaw.com) is the leading provider of online legal information and solutions for the legal community, businesses and individuals. The FindLaw Internet portal is the highest-trafficked legal Web site, according to leading independent Internet-traffic-monitoring services. The site provides comprehensive, plain-English legal information to businesses and individuals. These resources include West Legal Directory®, the Internet's largest directory of lawyers and legal professionals. FindLaw also offers comprehensive information, resources and services for law practice and legal career development, including free case law, an online career center, breaking legal news, newsletters, message boards, service directories, continuing legal education and legal search tools. In addition, FindLaw provides access to tools and services that help connect legal professionals with potential clients. FindLaw is a division of West, a Thomson business (NYSE: TOC; TSX: TOC) and the foremost provider of integrated information solutions to the U.S. legal market.
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