Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

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

Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

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

Article excerpt

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? …

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