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MADISON, Wis. – CUNA and CUNA Mutual are joining the ID theft fray. The industry’s largest trade association and insurer/vendor are teaming up to help credit unions battle ID theft which cost financials almost $50 billion last year and affected some 10 million consumers. The two are offering a number of tools, including an online tool kit, to help credit unions educate members about ID theft, while also helping credit unions understand their responsibilities. Each organization has launched a Web site (www.cunamutual.com/ID theft, www.cuna.org/initiatives/idtheft.html) where these tools and other information can be viewed free of charge. There are already a few players in the industry battling ID theft. Liberty announced a product earlier this year and Progeny has had a product for a few years with famed fraudster turned consultant Frank Abagnale as the spokesman. In the banking industry, Citicorp really elevated the notoriety of ID theft with its popular commercials featuring voice overs of crooks via victims. ID theft has jettisoned into the number one consumer financial issue over the last few years. It is considered one of the most damaging financial frauds that can hit consumers because it can not only cost someone thousands of dollars, it can take a long time to have an ID restored and can be emotionally taxing. “People spend hours trying to clean up their credit report, clear their name. I had people in seminars who feel they have to pay financially for some of these things. They didn’t know what to do,” said Jan Garkey, Special Materials Editor in the Center for Personal Finance for CUNA. Getting credit union members and credit unions themselves to understand what they can do to battle the problem is what the CUNA, CUNA Mutual partnership is all about, said Garkey, who has only been with CUNA since December. Garkey has experience with ID theft. Prior to coming to CUNA, she worked for the Iowa State University where among other things she held seminars on ID theft. Prior to that she worked in the consumer education division of American Express. Garkey said there are many ways to prevent ID theft, but one of the most basic is protecting your Social Security number. She said there are only a few instances where consumers have to give their Social Security number. “I walked into a Holiday Inn and when they asked me to be part of their frequent stay club, they said `what’s your Social Security number. It will be your club ID number,’ “she said. When Garkey asked for another number they complied. Garkey said too many people don’t ask. In Iowa many people still have their Social Security numbers on their driver’s license. Garkey said that too can be changed. She said insurance companies often tie clients to their Social Security number, making that the customer’s ID number. But most will issue another number at the customer’s request. She said the only time a consumer has to give out their number is for income tax, medical records, credit reports, college records, loan applications and vehicle registrations. She said there’s also no reason to carry the card, which many older Americans have a problem accepting since they’ve been doing it for years. Where does most ID theft occur? Garkey said the workplace is the most prevalent place. There is a lot of personal information floating around that various levels of employees may have access to. She told the story of one victim who had faxed in their insurance application to the insurance company and after sitting on someone’s desk for hours, information was taken from it and used to steal their ID. Garkey also suggested that credit union members pick up their share drafts, rather than having them delivered to their house, and not to mail bills that have account numbers from unsecured mail boxes. Shredding personal documents of course is another preventative method. One of the first things consumers should do if they fall victim to ID theft is to complete an ID theft affidavit available at the FTC’s site and forward on to the three major credit bureaus and any institution where their credit was compromised. They should also require a free credit report from all three credit bureaus. This should be available shortly as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act working its way through Congress. Roger Nettie, Solutions Development Manager, Credit Union Protection for CUNA Mutual Group, said this initiative is all about raising the profile of ID theft among CUs and members. He said it’s hard to tell how prepared the industry is because it varies so much from credit union to credit union. “I think credit unions are going to be in various stages. Some have more innovative ideas in terms of helping members with ID theft. There are some credit unions that will take a more active role, point out the steps you can take,” said Nettie. Nettie said from a credit union’s perspective one of the key areas to focus on for preventing ID theft is the process for address changes. Often a thief attempting to get a member’s address changed to somewhere they can access the mail is the first step of the process. Nettie said the CUNA/CUNA Mutual partnership is a natural because CUNA has experience on the employee training side, while CUNA Mutual brings more of a risk management perspective. [email protected]

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