The Identity Theft Business
By now, most people have been frightened with statistics about the prevalence of identity theft. Or they have at least seen those Citibank commercials in which identity thieves, speaking through the mouths of their victims, wax on about the joys of their ill-gotten loot.
You couldn't ask for a better marketing campaign for the cottage industry that has sprung up to protect consumers from identity snatchers.
According to the New York Times, 10 million pay about $100 a year to protect their credit information. That adds up to a $1 billion industry.
There are credit monitoring services, offered by the Big Three credit reporting agencies and credit card companies, that charge $30 to $150 to alert you about inquiries or credit applications. Next, there are insurance policies from the likes of Travelers, Chubb, and Farmers Group that charge $20 to $50 a year to insure you up to $25,000 for costs associated with identity theft, such as lost wages and attorney's fees. Consumer Reports says you can monitor your credit yourself for less money and the insurance policies cover so little they're not worth it.
Finally, there are outright scams. Some 300 senior citizens in West Virginia were recently duped by a company called Main Security Center that called them offering to "upgrade" their current anti-identity theft programs. The consumers thought the calls were coming from their banks or credit card companies. After paying $299, they received a CD-ROM allegedly containing anti-virus software, copies of free brochures published by the Federal Trade Commission, and a hand-held paper shredder. West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw settled with Main Security Center last month.
All this means more homework for everyone. Not only do you have to keep on top of identity thieves but you also have to make sure you don't get ripped off while trying to protect yourself.
For tips on how to protect your personal information beyond checking your credit report, and what to do if you discover your identity has been stolen, here are several places you can go:
Consumer Reports has a lengthy page of suggestions.
The Federal Trade Commission acts as a clearinghouse for identity theft complaints. The agency doesn't bring criminal cases but it can share your complaint with the proper law enforcement agencies. An added bonus is the information is available in Spanish.
You can also check out The Post's own new handy, dandy site that amasses in one place, articles and links that appear in The Post about identity theft.
We talked about credit monitoring services not long ago. Has anyone out there signed up for identity theft insurance? What happened when you filed a claim?
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