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Wary consumers turn the tide on ID theft

Emily Crone

Concerned consumers, breathe a sigh of relief: A report released yesterday by Javelin Strategy & Research reveals that identity fraud is on the decline in most of America. It also reinforces a three-year trend that the majority of information stolen by criminals is taken from personal belongings and phone calls — not online.

identity-theft-declining.jpgA key survey finding is that identity fraud is down an estimated 12 percent since 2006, which means criminals illegally obtained $6 billion less than the year before. While overall fraud has declined over the last three years, the report noted that out-of-pocket expenses for identity fraud victims have risen. Fortunately, approximately 300,000 fewer American adults became identity victims in 2007 than in 2006.

The lowest risk for fraud was found to be in the Northeast, while residents in California, Illinois, Idaho, West Virginia and Delaware have the highest incidences of identity fraud.

The report found that traditional criminal methods still pose the greatest risk. In 2006, only 3 percent of identity theft victims’ information was accessed through mail or telephone transactions. In 2007, the figure leapt to 40 percent. The main phone method was through vishing, in which criminals use voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or other telecommunications to make calls posing as a nonprofit organization, billing company or financial institution. Many of the consumers hand over their Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and credit card information thinking they are giving it to a legitimate business, when they are actually placing it into the hands of a criminal.

The report presumes that the decline in fraud can be attributed to “greater consumer vigilance and awareness, improvements in systems and practices by companies that manage personal information, the increased frequency of viewing personal account information and consumers more frequently updating spyware and anti-virus software.” Javelin expects fraud reduction to continue as businesses and consumers work together to protect sensitive data — especially financial information online.

“Javelin’s 2008 Report confirmed what we believe to be true: that while fraud is declining, it is still a concern for the American public,” says Javelin’s president and founder, James Van Dyke, in a press release. “The good news is the leadership role many businesses are taking in educating consumers about ID fraud risk factors is paying off. Still, fraudsters are getting creative and leveraging new techniques to commit fraud, so Americans need to be as diligent as ever in protecting their personal information.”

Remember, just because someone asks for your personal information over the phone instead of through e-mail does not mean it is legitimate. Never give out personal or financial information when you have been solicited. It is only wise to do so when you have placed the call, and you know you are dealing with a trusted business. If you get a call and it sounds like it’s from a trusted institution, hang up, look up and call the customer service number and find out whether that business truly needs your information. Better safe than sorry!

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