I didn’t catch the H1N1 flu and I have not been a recent victim of identity theft as far as I know. Both menaces seems overblown for most of us, but that doesn’t mean precautions shouldn’t be taken. The good news is that full-blown ID theft when someone commits crime using your name, Social Security Number or other information occurred in only one percent of U.S. households in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Much more common is the thief who uses your existing credit or debit card account to steal money. But it’s a relief to know that about 60 percent of ID theft victims pay nothing out of pocket because the bank usually picks up the whole tab, even though individuals might be responsible for the first $50.
Here are four tips from the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Reports to protect your information that cost little or nothing.
1. Stop the ”You’re pre-approved!” credit offers. Call 1-888-567-8688 to get off mailing lists for credit and insurance offers. You will be required to give your SSN.
2. Get your free annual credit report from the three credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Equifax and Experian) by calling 1-877-322-8228, going to www.annualcreditreport.com or mailing your request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Do not use www.freecreditreport.com. It isn’t free.
3. Place security freezes on your credit reports to prevent anyone from looking at your credit report except for companies that already have a financial relationship with you. It can cost up to $30 per person to file at the three credit bureaus.
4. Place fraud alerts on your credit reports. It tells lenders that you may be the victim of ID theft. It’s free and it lasts 90 days. Go to the website of one of the three major credit bureaus. It will alert the other two. You’ll have to renew it every 90 days. Fraud alerts by private companies such as LifeLock, Namesafe or TrustedID often cost $100 per year or more.
For individuals wanting more security against ID theft, check out PQS Inc, a Chaska company that sells protection mostly to businesses as an employee perk. PQS’s product is offered to employees at Microsoft, University of Iowa, and Arizona Public Radio. The protection is currently on sale for $56 to $78 for a year of coverage, a 60 percent discount through May 31. The service includes two parts: ID theft protection (www.Securisphere.us) and a secure digital database for storage of health information, records, codes, and home valuables inventory (www.thepersonalrecordsvault.com).
PQS’s CEO Dianne Cutter said that the company’s protection plans offer more than most ID theft protection plans. If a person signed up for credit monitoring through TrueCredit, a competitor, the fee would be $143 to $179. At PQS, members also get to see their credit scores as often as they want (free!), for which most agencies charge $10 per look. Also, PQS will research any breaches in identity by assigning a case manager.
I might do a more complete followup on identity theft. Please let me know about any experience you have had with identity theft or ID theft programs, especially PQS.