In This Issue

Identity Theft on the Rise

Identity theft is expected to increase in 2009. Here’s how ERIE can help keep yours safe.

March 23, 2009

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that more than 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft last year and 2009 could be even worse.

Specifically, the FTC expects schemes in 2009 to be more sophisticated, making it more difficult to protect your identity.

“The economy can greatly impact identity theft,” says Terry McConnell, vice president and manager, ERIE’s Personal Lines Underwriting. “Higher unemployment rates and increasing foreclosures give thieves the opportunity to con innocent people into giving out personal information. They will get information from consumers with the promise of a mortgage rescue or job opportunity, for example.”

Additionally, the Identity Theft Resource Center confirmed 638 data breaches in 2008 compared to 446 in 2007. These data breaches are occurring because more consumer information is being electronically stored and sent to institutions without proper safeguards.

Last month, for example, a New Jersey credit-card processor disclosed a data breach that analysts said may rank among the biggest ever reported. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Heartland Payment Systems Inc. reported that cyber criminals compromised its computer network, gaining access to customer information associated with the 100 million card transactions it handles each month.

As cases of identity theft increase, consumers may want to consider purchasing identity recovery products—such as ERIE’s Identity Recovery Coverage (see sidebar). There are some other things you can do to keep yourself protected as well.

Watch out for red flags

How do you know if your identity has been stolen? The key is to catch the thief before they’ve gone too far. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Unexpected phone calls from someone who says they are from your bank or credit card company. They may ask to verify your account number or Social Security Number. Don’t give out this information.
  • Unusual mail that refers to newly activated cards or accounts that you did not request.
  • Small charges to your debit or credit card that you didn’t make or that can’t be explained. This might be a thief testing their connection to your account.
  • E-mailed receipts of purchases you did not make.

What to do if a card’s been stolen

If you suspect someone has stolen your bank or credit card account numbers, or if you’ve lost a card, contact your institution immediately and request a freeze on the account. A customer service representative might also be able to tell you if there’s been any suspicious transaction.

If you confirm your card or identity has been stolen, start preparing to get it back. Victims of identity theft talk about the time-consuming and expensive process that follows after theft occurs. It’s countless phone calls, time monitoring account activity and sometimes court hearings.

To help save you time and money, look into purchasing ERIE’s Identity Recovery Coverage. That way you can have peace of mind knowing that if someone steals your identity—or your money—help is just one phone call away.

More ways to protect yourself

The FTC warns consumers to take additional steps to protect their identities in 2009. They offer these tips:

  • When applying for credit online or making an online purchase, make sure the site you are using is secure.
  • Monitor bank accounts and credit card statements carefully to look for unauthorized purchases.
  • Don’t have personal checks sent to your home—pick them up at the bank instead.
  • Install a firewall on your computer to keep hackers out.
  • Invest in a paper shredder to avoid “dumpster divers”—someone who searches through trash for personal information.
  • Opt out of direct mail offers that may contain your personal information.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write the number on a check. Give it out only if necessary or ask to use another identifier.
  • Don’t use obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Take advantage of a free annual credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus. This may allow for early detection of a problem.

See the FTC Web site for more information.