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Consumers Report Strong Support
of Increased ID Theft Precautions

As the holiday shopping season shifts into high gear, most consumers report they take comfort with the extra screening measures being taken to verify their identity when making purchases.

According to a consumer survey on identity theft released on November 19 by American Express(R), more than two-thirds of consumers (69%) have noticed over the past year that merchants and credit card companies have stepped up identity verification when they are making a purchase. With reports of identity theft on the rise, most consumers (68%) say they like these stepped-up measures.

According to the survey, 43% of respondents say they have been asked for zip code verification, followed by signature verification (36%), requests for additional personal identification (34%), and requests for additional security numbers, such as Card Identification Numbers, or unique numbers found on credit cards that are different from the card account number (31%). Twenty two percent say they have received a call from their credit card company to verify a purchase.

"American Express is committed to raising awareness about ID theft - how it occurs and how to reduce the risk - to help consumers be smart shoppers this holiday season," said Zyg Gorgol, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Fraud and Risk Capabilities, American Express. "It's important to address the issue with both merchants and consumers to create a front line of defense against this crime."

American Express offers shoppers some simple steps to reduce their risk.

-- First, do not disclose personal information unnecessarily - especially a Social Security number.

-- Second, monitor all statements and view credit bureau reports one to two times annually.

-- And third, shred all discarded personal information.

According to the survey, sizable numbers of consumers report experiences that might put them at risk of identity theft.

Social Security Numbers Frequently Used for ID Verification

Consumers report that Social Security numbers - the piece of information identity thieves want most - continue to be used frequently for routine identity verification. More than half (56%) of those surveyed have been asked for their Social Security numbers over the phone or in written form as part of an application or an in-person or online transaction. Many of these requests are legally required: 41% of consumers report they were asked for a Social Security number in a credit or loan application, and 30% were asked on employment forms. But other requests may not be: more than a third (35%) say they were asked for their Social Security number on medical insurance forms, 16% on college and school forms, 12% as part of an online transaction, and 6% when making a purchase in a store.

Unsolicited E-Mail

More than one in five (22%) say they have received unsolicited e-mail from a bank, an online shopping service or online retailer requesting personal financial information over the past year. Unsolicited e-mail can be indicative of "phishing" -- requests for personal information either online or over the phone that appear to be valid, but aren't. Phishing is used by identity thieves to collect financial information.

Men and Younger People More Cautious Online

According to the survey, consumers have also adopted new habits to protect personal information online (62%). Men are more likely than women to have adopted new online habits (73% vs. 54%), as are younger people (73% of those 18 - 34), and those with household incomes more than $75,000 (81%).

Many have changed their behavior to secure their personal information online, including adding software to protect personal information (44% overall; 58% of men, 34% of women), and being more selective where they shop online (39% overall; 47% of men, 33% of women).

Many consumers surveyed believe online shopping is more secure this year than last (41%), about a third (31%) believe it is as secure as last year, and 14% believe it is less secure.

This holiday season, those browsing or shopping online will head for retailer sites they know (28%), online shopping portals such as Amazon and Yahoo (18%), sites of manufacturers (14%), and sites where they can sell, buy and barter directly with other consumers (11%). Only a small number (11%) will browse and shop at many different sites, including sites they do not know.

© CONTACTO Magazine
Published on November 19, 2004

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