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PEMCO Insurance poll reveals Washington residents are savvy about identity theft

July 18, 2008

SEATTLE – A recent poll conducted by PEMCO Insurance shows that while Washington state has one of the highest per-capita rates of identity theft in the nation, Washingtonians are aware of the risks and are taking the precautions necessary to prevent identity fraud.

While the statewide poll did show that most Washingtonians take extra care in protecting their identities, there is significant room for improvement among some groups.

Among the findings, the poll showed that nearly half of respondents keep sensitive documents for at least five years. Results indicate that older residents are much more likely to hang on to hard copies of documents containing financial records, bank statements, and tax returns than younger Washingtonians, but interestingly, they're more likely to own a shredder.

Though younger respondents are less likely to shred, the poll showed they conversely tend to keep sensitive documents for fewer than five years, unlike their older counterparts.

"Our poll results show that folks are not ignoring the risks and warning signs of identity fraud and are becoming their own advocates for protecting their identities from ID thieves. When four out of five households report that they own and use a shredder, that's encouraging," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesperson. "Still, there's more people can do to reduce the likelihood of a stolen identity."

According to Identity Theft 911®, PEMCO's partner in providing identity management and education to policyholders, thieves are more likely in Washington state to use stolen information to hijack existing bank accounts. That emphasizes the importance of protecting information tied to active accounts.

Though many household shredders easily destroy a few sheets at a time, as the shredding pile steadily grows, the task of shredding may become more like a chore than a precaution.

Identity Theft 911 recommends following guidelines established by the Internal Revenue Service when considering how long to keep documents with personal information, such as tax returns, but reminds residents that greater than 10 percent of identity fraud is committed using information from stolen mail or trash.

With resources like paperless billing and online payment tracking, the standards for retaining sensitive paper documents are evolving, and the need for keeping a paper trail of account information is less significant.

"Many cases of identity theft can be prevented by reducing the chance for thieves to gain access to your personal records," Osterberg said.

PEMCO's poll showed that only one in three respondents installed locking mailboxes as a precaution against identity theft. The same percentage reported opting out of receiving direct mail, which often contains personal information that can be used to open credit cards – one of the most common forms of identity theft.

Visit poll.pemco.com to learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and see how you match up to this year's results.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent, statewide survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about cell-phone use and home-safety issues. The sample size, 621 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study was conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the state and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.

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