By T. Foster Jones
THE STATISTICS of just one year of identity
theft are staggering: 10 million cases; billions
of dollars lost; one in eight families, one in
four people affected.
Identity fraud is defined as access to personal account information that leads to fraud,
and U.S. consumers lost nearly $57 billion in
2005 to criminals who stole their identities.
For many, it meant months of frustration
spent clearing their credit records.
At the same time, however, while the
amount of stolen data has increased, the success rate of identity theft is on the verge of
being contained, according to a report released
by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and
Javelin Strategy and Research.
The 2006 Identity Fraud Survey Report
suggests that either thieves have been unsuccessful in using pilfered information to steal
identities, or banks and personal-informa-tion-holding institutions have better safeguards to prevent identity theft.
“This new research shows how we can
stay on top of this problem,” says Steven J.
Cole, president and CEO of the Council of
Better Business Bureaus. “Consumers can do
a lot to make sure they cut down the risk
associated with this fraudulent activity.”
Get info quickly
One of the best methods to minimize
risk is to stay apprised of your credit data
through regular credit reports and monitor-
Executive Members can sign up for Identity
Guard for just $7.49 per month. Gold Star
and Business members can sign up for
$9.49 per month. For more information,
visit costco.com and click on “services,”
then “Credit Reports & Monitoring.”
CHRIS A RUSNAK
ing, says Ed Murphy, manager for member
services at Costco.
“If your identity is stolen, the more time
that has passed between the time of the initial
identity theft and the time you first discover
it, the more difficult and time consuming it
may be to untangle the mess,” says Ed. “So, the
sooner you discover the theft—and the faster
you act when you do discover it—the better.”
By reviewing their credit information
regularly, he says, consumers are in a position
to quickly identify and correct problems.
To that end, Costco and Identity Guard®
have teamed up to offer Costco members a
comprehensive service to help manage their
credit and protect their identities.
The service includes a variety of monitoring features, such as a three-in-one combined
credit report, three-bureau (Equifax®, Experian®
and TransUnionSM) daily credit monitoring,
identity-theft insurance and an identity-theft
“With this service, members receive a
consolidated report of their credit history
compiled with information from all three
major credit bureaus,” says Ed. “And Identity
Guard monitors these credit files daily. If
there’s a change to your file, such as a new
credit card added to your name or an
address change, they’ll alert you so you can
Protect credit scores
Amid all the confusion following identity
theft and fraud, it may be easy to forget that
another problem that comes with this is the
damage to credit scores.
“If you’re in the market for a home or car
loan, problems resulting from identity theft
can destroy your credit,” says Ed. “Your credit
score relates to whether you can qualify for a
loan, and how low or high an interest rate you
receive. The lower your credit score, the
THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU has
these suggestions to protect yourself
from identity theft.
Prevent access to your
■ Keep all sensitive documents, checkbooks and credit cards securely locked
away at home and at work.
■ Carry only those credit cards that you
need in your wallet.
■ Before discarding, shred all private
■ Retrieve paper mail promptly and place
outgoing checks or other sensitive documents in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox.
■ Sign up for automatic payroll deposits.
■ Replace paper bills, statements and
checks with online (paperless) versions.
■ Keep passwords hidden (even in your
own home) and change them frequently.
■ Use and regularly update firewall and
■ Do not respond to suspicious e-mails.
Delete them, and if there is any doubt,
contact the company to determine if
the e-mail is real.
■ Don’t discard a computer without
completely destroying the data
on the hard drive.
Detect unauthorized activity
■ Review bank, credit card and billing
statements weekly—available through
online account access.
■ Contact your financial provider if you
fail to receive statements in a
■ Review your credit information regularly.
■ Use e-mail-based account “alerts” to
monitor transfers, payments, low balances and withdrawals or to detect
any out-of-pattern activity.
■ Visit your bank’s, credit card issuer’s
or biller’s Web site(s) frequently to
monitor regular account activity.
Resolve fraud promptly
■ Minimize loss and protect your credit
record by subscribing to a credit-reporting service.
higher the rate and the more you pay. Identity
Guard can not only help protect against theft,
but with an included feature of the service,
Credit Analyzer, it can help provide solutions
to understand and manage your credit score,
and get a better interest rate.” C