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Identity theft: implications for EAPs: EA professionals can educate employees to avoid becoming victims of identity theft and serve as resources in the event they fall prey to it.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), identity theft--the co-opting of a person's name, Social Security number, driver's license, e-mail address, etc. for fraudulent or criminal use--is the fastest-growing white collar crime in the United States. A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) telephone survey conducted in 2003 found that an estimated 10 million Americans discovered they had been victims of some form of identity theft within the previous year. The Identity Theft Resource Center calculates that victims of identity theft must spend an average of 600 hours (up 300 percent over the past three years) and pay $1,400 (up 185 percent) to clear their names and re establish their credit. The 600 hours dedicated to recovering from identity theft, multiplied by the reported victim's wages, equals nearly $16,000 in lost income.

The business community, meanwhile, loses anywhere from $40,000 to $92,000 per name in fraudulent charges, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Businesses also suffer when the victims of identity theft are their own employees. The time needed to resolve the problems stemming from the crime and the emotional toll exacted by the process may contribute to absenteeism and lost productivity.

In this regard, identity theft is not unlike other stressful events, relationships, or situations that can hurt an individual's work performance. Indeed, the financial, legal, emotional, and familial implications of identity theft clearly make ii a topic that fits within the purview of EAPs. Bringing this to the attention of employers and employees is part of our role of developing and maintaining positive partnerships with our clients.

EA professionals who can ameliorate the devastating effects of identity crime can provide an important service to both employees and employers. The following information will help EA professionals develop a working knowledge of the issue so they can ask the right questions, offer appropriate options, and develop resources that match their client/customer needs. Additionally, this information can serve as a template for a training model that can be sponsored by the employer and presented by an EA professional as a worksite seminar or "brown bag" luncheon.

HOW IDENTITY THEFT OCCURS

Identity theft can occur in hundreds of ways. Knowing how it happens can help individuals protect themselves from this form of insidious crime. The following are a few of the more common methods:

* Picking someone's pocket

* "Dumpster diving" (going through garbage dumpsters seeking personal in formation)

* Burglaries/robberies

* Identity theft rings that hire dishonest merchants, cleaning staff, employees of financial institutions, etc., to steal personal information

* Mail diversion (illegally diverting an individual's mail to another person)

* Mail theft (stealing a person's mail, such as pre-approved credit card applications)

* E-mail scams

* Cell phone cameras (the thief takes pictures of the victim's credit cards, driver's license, etc. while standing in line at a checkout counter and pretending to be talking on the phone)

The Internet is another means of stealing someone's identity. The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) estimates that on-line consumer fraud victimizes between 500,000 and 700,000 Americans per year.

No matter which method a thief uses, s/he will want first and foremost to steal your Social Security number. Other identifying information--signatures, fingerprints, photographs, personal identification numbers, and credit card expiration dates--is important as well, but a Social Security number is paramount. Before you reveal your Social Security number to someone, ask yourself the following questions:

* Why does this person/organization need it?

* How will this person/organization use it?

* How will this person/organization protect access to it?

* What law requires me to reveal ii?

* What will happen if I don't reveal it?

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

There area number of ways that individuals can protect themselves from becoming victims of identity theft. Consider taking the following preventive steps:

Limit access to your personal information, including your bank account information, mother's maiden name, previous addresses, date and place of birth, occupation, employer's name, and salary. A seasoned criminal can use this information to fool lenders into thinking s/he is you.

Be sure to remove your name from marketing lists through the use of "opt-out" letters or calls. You can do this by contacting the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). In addition, opt out of receiving pre-approved credit offers through the mail by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).

Contact the Direct Marketing Association and ask to be removed from its members' direct mail, telemarketing, and e-mail lists. This will reduce the number of unwanted solicitations you receive from its members, including financial services firms, publishers, book and music clubs, on-line service companies, and other businesses involved in direct and database marketing. If businesses continue to contact you after you ask to be put on the "do not ca]l" registry; they can be held liable for up to $500 in damages per call and $1,500 per willful violation.

Finally, contact banks, charities, and other organizations with whom you conduct business and ask them not to sell or share any of your personal information.

Never leave bills of checks in your home mailbox, and do not include information such as your middle name, telephone number, or driver's license number on new checks. If you receive pre-approved credit or convenience check offers in the mail, shred them before placing them in the trash.

Review and verify credit card statements and phone bills as soon as they arrive. Do not let others view or gain access to cancelled checks, and never let a merchant write your credit card number on a check (it's illegal in some states).

Use your credit cards wisely. Monitor and verify your credit card statements, and don't share your credit card numbers with anyone unless you are sure they will be kept secure. Consider not signing your credit cards in the signature strip; instead, write "See ID" or "CID" on the strip to encourage clerks and cashiers to ask for further identification. Always take your credit card and ATM receipts when you finish your transaction.

Reduce the number of cards you use and cancel those you don't. If you order a new card, monitor your mail and contact the issuing company immediately if you don't receive the card within the expected time.

Each year, order a copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus mentioned previously Review it carefully for inaccurate information and any evidence of identity theft.

Be a smart on-line shopper. Use a secure Web browser, make sure you are at the correct Web site (check the top of the page), and verify that any personal information you send is secure (look for the padlock icon). Pay by credit or charge card and keep a record of all purchases, including the purchase order and confirmation numbers.

If you use a password, keep it private. Create your password using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Beware of "spyware" on your computer that collects data about your computer use and delivers it to others. This is particularly true if you have DSL, which allows spying to occur all the time. Free software is available on the Internet through spybot.com to remove the "cookies" from your system.

Finally, check with your state attorney general about registering for consumer scam alerts.

WHEN YOU'RE A VICTIM

The following steps are predicated on the fact that at any point a victim of identity theft can consult an EAP to request assistance, direction, support, resources, and referrals.

First, report the crime. Keep detailed records/copies of all interactions with law enforcement agencies and with businesses, creditors, and government bureaus so that you have proof of the crime and your subsequent actions if you decide to try to recover damages.

Contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) and request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report. Address credit report fraud by contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding your rights under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Contact your banks and creditors and close all accounts you think have been or might be compromised. Ask that the accounts be made accessible only through the use of a password.

Cancel (stop payment on) stolen checks and report check theft to the six major check verification companies. Review all your regular bills to ensure they contain no fraudulent charges. Act immediately if you discover a discrepancy

Watch for misuse of your Social Security number. If you suspect misuse, contact the Social Security Administration and request a copy of your Social Security statement. Follow up if you discover discrepancies.

Contact the Postal Service ii you suspect the thief has filed a fraudulent change of address request in your name. Report passport theft in writing to the State Department, requesting vigilance if there's a request tot a new passport.

Clear false criminal of civil judgments. If a civil or criminal case is filed against you for actions taken by the thief, contact the court of the FBI (depending upon the nature of the case) to clear your name.

Above all, don't give up. You can't be held responsible for checks cashed or bills resulting from the theft of your identity.

EAPS AND IDENTITY THEFT ISSUES

When our profession was founded, it did not include services such as financial and legal assistance. Today these services are considered standard and are extensively used by our individual clients.

We have many opportunities to educate employers and employees on the vast number of life/work issues for which we can provide assistance. As many of us have learned, the more visible we make our programs--through employee orientations, supervisory trainings, topical trainings (like identity theft), payroll stuffers, newsletter articles, posters, wallet cards, and other promotional materials--the higher and broader the level of utilization. Addressing identity theft presents another opportunity to underscore the confidential nature of our services.

In summary, EA professionals can weave information about identity theft into their program and service offerings. As they become more knowledgeable about this issue, they can assess the impact of identity theft on a victim and provide support, develop resources, make appropriate referrals, and offer worksite trainings.

Resources

Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline. (Call 1-877-IDTHEFT.)

Foley, L., and J Foley. 2003 Identity Theft: The Aftermath. Identity Theft Resource Center.

Guarding Your Privacy. Office of the Attorney General of Minnesota. Call 1-800-657-3787 of (651) 296-3353 or visit www.ag.state.mn.us

ID Theft: What's It All About? 2003. U.S. Federal Trade Commission. (Call 1-877-382-4357 or visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft/.)

Identity Theft Resource Center. Visit www.idtheftcenter.org for more information.

Identity Theft Survey Report. 2003. U.S. Federal Trade Commission (See contact information above).

Maples, Susan. 2004. "I Never Thought it Would Happen to Me! Identity Theft and Self Protection." Training by Family Service Employee Resources, a program of Children's Home Society and Family Services.

Susan Maples is a 25-year veteran of employee assistance and has worked in a variety of positions with internal, external, nonprofit, and for-profit providers. She served two terms as president and two as secretary of the EAPA Upper Midwest Chapter and received a Special Recognition Award from EAPA in 2000. She is an EAP counselor and trainer for Family Service Employee Resources (FSER), a program of Children's Home Society and Family Services in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached by e-mail at samples@chsfs.org or by telephone at (651) 222-0161 ext. 167.
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Title Annotation:employee assistance programs
Author:Maples, Susan
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:1896
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