Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Are You At Risk?

Is anyone’s identity really safe these days? There are two big issues that identity theft educators, investigators, and law makers are trying to convey. One is the risk of business identity theft and its ramifications to businesses (of all sizes) and the other is the risk to individuals. Of course, there is overlap with both, because one affects the other. Right now, I want to focus on the personal side of identity theft—your personal risk. The big question is. . . Are you at risk? The answer is absolutely YES!

According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a non-profit consumer information and advocacy organization, security breaches of personal identifying information are accelerating and putting all Americans at HIGH risk for identity theft. Over 104 million data records have been breached in the past two years. Visit www.privacyrights.org to see the National Data Breach List. I have noted this before, but since the total is increasing so fast, you really must see why for yourself.

Types of Identity Theft
Are you aware that there are 5 types of identity theft? Most people are not aware of this fact. Financial identity theft may be the most common, but it is about 28 percent of all identity theft. In the United States, driver’s license, medical, Social Security, and criminal identity theft are just as serious, especially to their victims. Did you know that 12 percent of all identity theft victims end up with a wrongful criminal record?

Think about it. You could be arrested during a routine traffic stop for crimes you did not commit. A thief could use your SS# for employment and you become responsible for paying the taxes on that income. Your medical insurance rates could go up or your health insurance coverage could be cancelled or used up. Unfortunately, in all areas of identity theft, innocent victims are considered guilty until proven innocent. In addition, laws hold victims partially responsible for fraudulent debt after 48 hours, and hold them fully responsible if not reported within 60 days.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says, “People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years—and thousands of dollars—cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of a good name and credit record.”

Laws Protect Consumers
New federal privacy and identity theft laws protect the consumer. These laws are putting the responsibility on all businesses to protect personal identifying information that is maintained, stored, or discarded.

Consumers are not yet aware that if any size or type of business is in violation of a data security breach resulting in identity theft, then the victims may likely win a class action lawsuit. Some law firms around the country are advertising to represent identity theft victims. Victims of winning cases can be awarded damages with no statutory limitation, including payment of actual losses and attorney fees. Hefty penalty fines can be assessed to the business and executives. And, prison terms for executives may be enforced, depending on which privacy laws were violated.

Based on existing federal and state laws, consumers have the right and power to blow the whistle on businesses not compliant to federal/state security regulations. Some states give a whistleblower reward up to 15 percent of the fines collected. (More on this at a later date.)

The ultimate power consumers have is to stop doing business with privacy and security offenders who are negligent and disrespectful of safekeeping personal identifying information about their customers and employees.

The Reality
The worldwide reality is--identity theft cannot be prevented. It is out of the individual’s control how others use and store personal identifying information. However, increasing your awareness and adopting safe habits at home, in public, and at work will help to lower your risk.

The Best Wall of Defense
The strongest defense for identity theft includes a credit report, daily credit monitoring, and true restoration of your identity (restoration of all 5 of them), plus more. It is a defense system that clicks in immediately when the unexpected happens. I know of only one company that performs all three of these services.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive
The risk is very high for all forms of identity theft and will continue to increase. People need to take protective measures, understand the threats, and not ignore the warning signs. While identity theft emerges as the immensely destructive villain that it is, its wrath is devastating victims and its path is forcing change to lifestyle habits and business practices.

Lois Hale, MS, CITRMS Reno, Nevada USA
ICFE Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist
ADRS Certified Group Security Specialist

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