Surprising No. 1 Form of ID Theft

Computer crimes may make splashy headlines, but identity thieves actually prefer low-tech, old-fashioned common theft: stealing your wallet, purse, ID card or laptop computer.

That's the word from Travelers, which compiled 2008 claim data to find out the most common source of identity theft. When victims knew their identity had been stolen, it was overwhelmingly the result of personal property being stolen.

Travelers has identified the top known causes of identity fraud:

  • 78 percent: burglary or theft of a wallet, purse, personal identification or laptop computer
  • 14 percent: online or data breach
  • 5 percent: change of address or postal fraud
  • 3 percent: lost credit card and other miscellaneous causes

What do thieves do with the information once they have it? More than 75 percent of the time, criminals use the information to open new credit card accounts or use the existing credit cards to make charges. Twenty percent of identity thieves will withdraw money from existing checking, savings and online accounts and 16 percent open utility accounts in the victim's name.

"Our data indicate that identity fraud can happen to anyone at any time. Thieves don't discriminate. They prefer crimes of opportunity," said Joe Reynolds, identity fraud product manager for Travelers. "So, it really becomes a matter of being vigilant and prepared in the event identity fraud happens to you."

So what can you do to protect your identity? Reynolds recommends taking a proactive approach by guarding your Social Security number and financial information, including shredding receipts, credit card and insurance applications and bank statements.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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