SEATTLE – The latest poll from PEMCO Insurance shows that while most Northwest residents are concerned about the threat of identity theft, a majority rely on their own vigilance to protect themselves from fraudulent activity against their personal information.
Data from the Northwest's largest personal lines insurer reveal that less than one-fifth of drivers in the Northwest – 18 percent in Oregon and 16 percent in Washington – say they subscribe to an identity-theft protection service.
Instead, a majority in both states engage in other identity-protecting behaviors, such as installing security software like a firewall, using a shredder to destroy sensitive documents, registering with the "do not call" registry, and removing personal identification from wallets and purses.
"Our poll shows that more than 80 percent of those surveyed in Washington and Oregon are at least somewhat concerned with having their identity stolen, and rightly so. Identity theft continues to be one of the most serious consumer threats in the U.S.," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesperson. "What's interesting to us is that despite the risks, most consumers choose to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves."
A nationwide study cited by Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna states that while the number of identity theft victims has decreased in recent years, identity fraud is costing consumers more out-of-pocket expenses. The mean out-of-pocket cost due to identity fraud increased 63 percent from $387 in 2009 to $631 per incident in 2010, according to the study.
In both Washington and Oregon, the most commonly reported form of identity theft is credit card fraud, according to government data.
According to the PEMCO poll, the most common security practice among respondents is upgrading computer software, with 86 percent of Oregonians and 87 percent of Washingtonians reporting that they've installed a security firewall or similar software.
A majority – 77 percent of Oregonians and 78 percent of Washingtonians – also make sure to destroy personal information with a shredder.
However, fewer respondents say they take actions like reducing debit card usage or installing a locking mailbox to deter identity thieves. Only about one-third from both states take those actions.
"We're encouraged that so many Northwest residents are serious about protecting their identities," Osterberg said. "Ensuring the best protection takes just a few simple, common-sense steps."
- Shred, shred, shred. Destroy paperwork that contains personal information. That includes receipts (which often show your credit card number) and preapproved credit card offers you get in the mail.
- Never write passwords or PINs on cards. Choose passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols. They're harder to crack.
- Don't give out account numbers or other vital information unless you know the company you're dealing with. That's especially true if you didn't initiate the contact.
- Carry only essential cards. Leave health insurance cards (which often contain your Social Security number) at home.
- Never mail payments from an ordinary unlocked mailbox. Drop them off at the post office or use automated payment plans.
- Remove incoming mail promptly to reduce the chance it will be sitting there if a thief wanders by.
- Know your billing cycles. A late statement could signal trouble.
- Review statements promptly. If you don't remember a purchase, follow up right away.
- Use only secure sites when buying online. They begin with "https." Take advantage of online security programs (like "Verified by Visa") offered by your bank or credit union.
- Lock up personal information so roommates, housekeepers, and other people authorized to be in your home and car can't easily access it.
- Get off mailing lists for preapproved credit offers. 1- 888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. NOTE: The recorded phone message asks callers to provide their Social Security numbers.
- Order copies of your credit report once a year from the three major credit bureaus. If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, you can get help.
On Saturday, April 28, Puget Sound residents can shred documents at South Lake Union Discovery Center to benefit a charity. Your $10 donation will help the Lake Union Park Ambassador Program. Come to 101 Westlake Ave. N. between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
For a list of other shredding events in your area, check your Attorney General's website.
To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare with those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in April 2011 and July 2011.
About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Oregon drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 600 respondents in Washington and 402 respondents in the Portland, Ore., metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent and +/- 5.0 percent respectively at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range.
About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.