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The Biggest Theft: Your Identity

Gerri Detweiler -- You insure your home, your car, and your health. What about your identity? Identity theft can have negative long-term effects that reach well beyond just your financial wellbeing. So how can you protect yourself?

The theft of one's identity continues to be a major crime affecting Americans from all walks of life. Consider these chilling statistics about identity theft:

• 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years, including 9.91 million people or 4.6 percent of the population in the last year alone.

• Nearly 85 perfect of all victims find out about their identity theft case in a negative manner. Only 15 percent of victims find out due to proactive action taken by a business.

• 16 percent say it was a friend, relative or co-worker who stole their identity.

• The average time spent by victims straightening out the mess is about 600 hours, an increase of more than 300 percent over previous studies.

• Last year's identity theft losses to businesses and financial institutions totaled $47.6 billion and consumer victims reported $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses.

• An increasing number of children are becoming victims of identity theft, often when their parents "borrow" their identities to get credit, utilities, or other benefits.

Victims of this crime waste hours, days -– even months -– trying to clean up the mess, and often equate the emotional impact of ID theft to that of a violent crime.

While there are numerous tips and suggestions for "protecting" yourself from ID theft, the fact is that no one is immune. A thief could even be your boss, ex-spouse, or a "trusted" friend, as well as a stranger.

Here are some ways to help minimize the likelihood, and effects, of identity theft:

-- Question everyone who requests your social security number, birth date or other sensitive information to find out if it’s really necessary for you to provide it.

-- Ask your employer about what procedures it uses to protect employee files, which often contain a wealth of personal details.

-- Carry only the credit and identification cards you really need in your wallet.

-- Be wary of emails from companies asking you to "update" or verify your information on your account. In recent scams, thousands of people have been duped into revealing sensitive information by emails that looked like official emails from well-known companies.

-- Be careful about supplying detailed information for online jobs hunting services.

-- Look for identity theft protection insurance, which can cover lost wages and out of pocket costs.

-- Most importantly, monitor your credit file on a regular basis (monthly at least) and immediately check out any suspicious inquiries into your credit or new accounts.

-- You insure your home, your car, and your health. What about your identity?

Gerri Detweiler, considered one of the country's top credit experts and credit counseling specialists, started her career with a Washington, DC-based non-profit consumer advocacy organization, helping consumers keep up with credit card market changes in the 1980s. At that time she created information that was distributed nationwide, and responded to daily news media interviews. Gerri continues to be a sought-after source on credit topics, authoring and co-authoring several best-selling books on consumer financial topics, including The Ultimate Credit Handbook and Invest In Yourself: Six Secrets to a Rich Life. For more information on how to manage and protect your credit, visit the SuccessDNA Credit Center at SuccessDNA.com.

© 2007 Gerri Detweiler

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