Study: Consumers Move to Protect Against Identity Theft

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Most Americans have increased their awareness of identity theft and are taking measures to protect themselves, according to a survey released this week.

The online survey of 500 people by research firm InsightExpress, Stamford, CT, found that 15 percent of Americans have been a victim of identity theft and one-third have had a friend or family member victimized.

The survey found that 42 percent of Americans have a higher level of concern over the possibility of identity theft this year than last, while 59 percent are actively trying to protect themselves.

An overwhelming majority (85 percent) are concerned that identity theft could happen to them. One area creating trepidation as a source for identity theft involves credit card purchases. Thirty-seven percent said the online purchasing environment carries the greatest risk of identity theft, followed by telephone purchases (34 percent) and in-person purchases (10 percent).

While online shopping always has posed concerns about identity theft, consumers are taking widespread measures both online and off to protect themselves, according to the survey. Steps include:

* Avoid giving out Social Security number (87 percent).

* Shred or destroy bank and/or credit card information (83 percent).

* Shred or destroy any credit card or other direct mail offers (81 percent).

* Create passwords containing numbers and letters (61 percent).

* Avoid buying or making donations via the phone (58 percent).

* Buy goods online only from a reputable Web site (56 percent).

* Install a computer firewall at home (52 percent).

* Read the privacy statements and/or bank liability clauses (50 percent).

* Check credit report more frequently (38 percent).

* Use only one credit card for purchases (31 percent).

* Avoid shopping online (31 percent).

"Three out of five consumers are telling us that banks are not doing enough to educate them on how to protect against identity theft, as most are learning about it through television commercials and/or news reports," said Lee Smith, president and chief operating officer of InsightExpress. "Credit card issuers and primary banks stand a better chance of capturing and retaining customers if they take a more proactive approach in educating and protecting consumers against the threat."

Respondents for this study were randomly recruited online.

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