2006-12-29 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer If you’ve checked your credit report, called your insurance agent, or spoken with your credit card company recently, you’ve probably been offered a wide range of services to protect you from identity theft. This is hardly surprising considering the increase in identity theft in recent years.

Identity theft protection services can provide consumers with additional monitoring of their financial accounts and peace of mind.

Before purchasing identity theft protection, however, consumers should consider their risk level, examine the effectiveness of the services being offered and keep in mind that many identity theft prevention tools are available free of charge.

Identity theft experts advise previous identity theft victims, consumers who suspect that they may become victimized and recent burglary victims to consider purchasing identity theft protection services. Consumers, who have not been victimized, however, should consider the following:

Federal law limits consumers’ liability for unauthorized credit card charges to fifty dollars, and some credit card issuers will even waive this fee.

In 2005, I sponsored legislation that was enacted into law requiring solicitations for credit card protection services to include a disclosure regarding the liability cap on unauthorized charges.

There are several ways that you can protect yourself from identity theft. Monitor your financial accounts, billing statements, and credit reports and check for any unauthorized activity. You can order your free annual credit reports online at: www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

Protect the confidentiality of your Social Security number by only giving it out to companies and individuals that you are familiar with and only when required. You should always tear or shred documents containing personal information before disposing of them. All pre-approved credit card offers should also be destroyed. To limit the number of credit card offers you receive, you may call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to remove your name from credit card marketing lists free of charge.

If you suspect you may become an identity theft victim, you should consider placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. Fraud alerts require creditors to contact individuals for confirmation before opening any new accounts or making changes to existing accounts, and can be placed free of charge.

To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies. Once one agency is contacted, the others will be notified. Contact Equifax at: 1-800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com ; Experian at: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or www.experian.com ; or TransUnion at: 1-800-680-7289 or www.trans union.com.

If you are interested in purchasing identity theft protection, you may acquire it as an added coverage on your homeowners or renters policy, or you may buy the additional coverage from your credit card company or from a credit monitoring company. Generally, companies offer two types of identity theft protection: enhanced credit monitoring services and identity protection services. The enhanced credit monitoring services usually include limited coverage for costs associated with identity theft, monitoring of your credit reports at frequent intervals, and access to a customer care number.

This type of protection is frequently sold by credit card companies and credit monitoring services and is generally purchased on a monthly subscription basis, which usually costs between ten and twenty dollars a month. Identity theft protection generally includes more substantial coverage for costs associated with identity theft and access to resolution professionals who would assist you in restoring your credit.

This type of protection is generally offered by credit card companies or as an additional coverage on an existing homeowners or renters policy. This type of coverage is usually purchased for between twenty and forty dollars per year.

Keep in mind that coverages and prices vary widely for identity theft protection services, so be sure to shop around to find the service that best suits your needs.

To learn more about identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ . If you would like more information about identity theft protection services, consider calling your credit card company or your insurance agent.

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