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If you have a bank account, credit card, social security number or driver's license, pay close attention: you're at risk for identity theft.
At California's Second Annual Identity Theft Summit, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: "Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country... It can happen to anybody... it doesn't matter how big you are, how little you are, how famous you are, how unknown you are..."
Along with taking steps to protect your personal information, educating yourself about the specifics of your homeowners insurance policy can help protect you against identity thieves.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone's personal data -- name, drivers license, social security number, bank account information, etc. -- is unlawfully obtained and used by crooks. Thieves use this information to acquire credit cards, access to bank accounts, apply for loans and/or housing, gain employment and more.
9 Million Americans Fall Victims Each Year
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. The biggest problem with identity theft is that it is anonymous by nature. It's likely a victim won't realize their identity has been stolen until they've already been hit with fees, or until a creditor calls about an overdue bill. On average, victims of identity theft spend $1,200 in out-of-pocket expenses and 175 hours reversing the damage caused by identity thieves.
Can Homeowners Insurance Cover Identity Theft?
A number of homeowners insurance companies cover identity theft as a part of their insurance policy, either as a separate policy or an endorsement. With most policies, this coverage provides the victim reimbursement for expenses lost during the process, including phone bills, lost wages, mailing costs and pre-approved legal fees. Fraud specialists are provided to walk the victim through the process of restoring their identity. According to the Insurance Information Institute, adding an identity theft endorsement to your homeowners or renters insurance policy costs between $25 and $50 annually.
7 Tips to Help Protect Your Identity
Identity thieves thrive on personal information. Bank statements, credit reports, malicious computer viruses, check stubs or internet searches can provide enough information to steal someone's identity.
Here are some tips to help protect your identity:
Never give personal information to anyone over the telephone.
Keep non-essential cards (medical card, identification badges, social security, credit cards) at home.
Invest in a locking mailbox. Never send outgoing mail through non-secure mailboxes.
Shred all documents that include your name, birth date, or other sensitive information, including junk mail. Determined identity thieves will often rummage through garbage cans to obtain discarded mail.
Make sure you have firewall, anti-spyware and anti-virus programs installed on your computer.
Consider investing in a homeowners insurance policy. A number of homeowners insurance companies offer identity theft protection as a part of their insurance policy.
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, contact your bank and credit card companies immediately. These financial institutions should be able to help you with alerting the credit bureaus and directing you to the appropriate resources. Protect your Social Security number by calling the Social Security Fraud Hotline at: 1-800-269-0271. A valuable source of information during this time is the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at: 1-877-IDTHEFT.
The information contained on or provided through this site is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional financial or accounting advice. Always seek the advice of your accountant or other qualified personal finance advisor for answers to any related questions you may have. Use of this site and any information contained on or provided through this site is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.