Sending A Better Message About Identity Theft Protection

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In today's precarious world, where cyber-crime is rampant and identity theft is a growing problem, you may want to think twice before following any advice that you get regarding how to protect your financial well being. Your identity is your most important possession. Don't get fooled into letting your guard down for even one moment.  I'm worried that if those who write about identity theft in a manner that minimizes its effects or in a way that doesn't take identity theft seriously, then the public won't take it seriously either.  And that's a recipe for disaster.   

According to a recent Consumer Reports article, consumers should not waste money on id theft protection services when trying to keep their credit cards and checking accounts safe from thieves. They believe we can better protect ourselves against id thieves by being informed and educated and tackling any necessary problem caused by fraud ourselves. I agree that it is best to "be an informed and active consumer," but I do not agree that if one is an informed and active consumer they shouldn't also be protected.

I understand that the editors at Consumer Reports do not value identity theft protection services. I get that. I just think they're wrong on this one, but I'm just a small voice in a big arena. I would ask them; why not provide a comparison and evaluation of existing identity theft protection services? That way, consumers who decide to protect themselves can receive the benefit of their valued opinion as to which services can protect them from credit card fraud and/or identity theft based upon what these companies offer.

Knowledge is power, and with that knowledge we have the power to determine what we find worthy of our time and money whenever we are considering options to protect our finances, our family and our identity. Consumer Reports wouldn't tell consumers they shouldn't buy (or want to buy) the latest and greatest Smartphone, iPad, Kindle, flat-screen TV, or even a new car -because it would be unnecessary. Instead, they would provide their well-researched findings -and then let us make an informed decision.

Making a blanket statement that identity theft services aren't necessary or worth the price ---is similar to declaring that consumers shouldn't buy -and shouldn't want to buy- the latest and greatest iPhone, or Kindle, or even that new car. This might seem like a stretch at first, but think about it; the value of these objects lies not in their cost but in the consumers' perception of them.  Instead of buying an iPhone I could buy a $20 cell phone and still make calls with it; for $50 I could buy a generic smartphone that would give me a few more advanced features. The thing is: It's up to me to decide what I find important and what I view as a value to me.

In a nutshell; if I want a phone, Consumer Reports heartily recommends that I do the research and pick the one that will serve me the best. They provide useful reports and key info on various products on the market today.  Why not say the same about identity theft protection? I can't help but think it would be far more helpful if Consumer Reports would provide comparisons and evaluations of existing identity theft protection services rather than simply saying ---they aren't worth it. That way, consumers receive the benefit of their valued research as to which services can protect them from credit related fraud and/or identity theft based upon what these services offer.

Unless you've been a victim of identity theft or personally witnessed the havoc that it can create for someone you know, you really may not understand the value of signing up for identity theft protection. Today's thieves are savvy. They aren't just looking to tap into credit cards and steal money out of bank accounts. If they manage to get your social security number, then they may also want to use your identity to sign up for Medicare, Food Stamps, Social Security, or unemployment insurance. Once they steal your identity, these thieves can hi-jack tax returns, buy cars, homes, and more. They can commit crimes, and if they get caught, you are the one whose name goes on the police report. You are the one who gets arrested when you don't show up in court.

Take, for example, Mashara Williams, who also became a victim of identity theft, fully understands how it can follow you around years after you thought that it had been resolved. Three years after her identity was first stolen, Mashara ended up in jail for a failure-to-appear charge aimed at the identity thief. Her nightmare began all over again. Would identity theft protection have prevented this from happening? Quite possibly. After all, Mashara may have been alerted to fraudulent use of her personal information early on in this scenario.

A Detroit woman, Vontara Colbert-Redmond, knows first hand just how devastating identity theft can be. In 2007, a thief took her purse, emptied her bank accounts, obtained a driver's license in her name, and got it suspended. Vontara lost her ability to drive to work, lost her job, and lost the freedom to live the "American dream" because someone else had stolen it from her.

Those who continue to minimize the impact of id theft, seem to overlook the fact that ID theft is evolving with technology and criminals have been shifting the sites and targets to much more than credit card accounts. The IRS is literally overwhelmed at the moment with complaints about stolen tax returns. The FTC released a notice recently stating that identity theft complaints have risen by a full 50% just since tax season started.  ID theft has become a professional business. It continues to baffle me why it is that Consumer Reports continues to downplay identity theft and send a message to consumers that essentially says; don't worry about fraud.   

While an identity theft protection service might not have made sense 5 or so years ago, times have changed drastically, and it makes perfect sense today.  Protect your identity! Without it, you cannot do anything. You cannot purchase a home or a car, get a job, apply for retirement benefits, open a bank account, or get a credit card. Your identity is critical to your ability to achieve your dream of living a good life.

Isn't it time to change the focus and place the emphasis on what the options are, instead of saying there are none worth paying attention to? When consumers have the facts, only then are they equipped to make informed decisions.

I have been an outspoken proponent of the identity theft protection industry and those organizations, companies and experts who have been focusing their efforts on making consumer protection and fraud prevention education a top priority. I continue to hope that one day, identity theft protection professionals, whether competitors or not, and consumer protection groups will all see the value in working together to find solutions and not against those who are trying to.  

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