The average victim of identity theft spends about $4,800 and 30 hours to rectify effects of the crime, according to a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., and has spurred new legislation requiring businesses and even consumers to destroy certain documents before throwing them away. Additionally, OfficeMax(R) one of the nation's largest distributors of office supplies, has compiled
guidelines to help protect against this costly type of fraud.
Identity theft has risen more than 40 percent over the last year, according to the FTC, and the number one method is thieves rummaging through the trash. Starting June 1, a new law requires anyone who has one or more employees, and keeps each worker's personal information on paper, to destroy the records before throwing them away.
"This law highlights the importance and severity of the identity theft problem," said Ryan Vero, OfficeMax executive vice president of merchandising.
The document destruction provision in the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act will likely require increased reliance on shredders for protection against thieves who search through trash for personal information such as receipts, bank statements, investment reports and bills. If files are kept electronically, some shredders now accept CDs, such as the Tech Solutions Premium Personal Shredder (available at OfficeMax -- strip cut $159.99 or confetti cut -- $189.99).
"Shredding sensitive documents is one of the best ways to protect against identity theft, however, thieves use many different methods to steal people's identity," Vero added. "Recognizing these different methods can make it easier to take precautionary steps in order to keep your business and personal information safe."
OfficeMax offers these tips to help protect against other forms of identity theft:
- Maintain a "clean" computer. Identity theft is becoming technologically advanced. There are more than 100,000 known computer viruses floating through the Internet. These viruses, plus spyware and adware, allow thieves to remotely access a computer and gain entrance to confidential business and personal files. A variety of computer protection products are available, including Norton Internet Security ($69.95), which searches out and blocks annoying pop-up ads and spyware applications. Norton Personal Firewall 2004 ($49.95) filters out potential hackers that roam broadband connections such as cable modem or DSL. Norton Antivirus 2005 ($49.95) helps destroy or quarantine viral threats. All are available at OfficeMax stores nationwide.
- Store paper files securely. Business documents and personal files, such as employee records, bank statements, tax forms, loan information, birth certificates and social security cards should be securely archived. Hon's 462 and 600 series of vertical or horizontal lockable file cabinets (starting at $169.99), available at OfficeMax stores, provide safe and secure storage.
- Write checks that cannot be altered. Using a process known as "check washing," thieves erase ink using chemicals found in common household cleaning products. Then they rewrite the checks to themselves and raise the amount payable by hundreds or thousands of dollars. When writing checks, use a pen with ink that cannot be removed by standard check washing chemicals, such as the Uni-Ball Retractable Gel Impact Pen ($4.69 per 3-pack), available at OfficeMax stores nationwide.
- Cover mail from prying eyes. It's possible to see mail contents such as credit card and bank account numbers by holding envelopes up to light or peeking through an envelope address window. OfficeMax experts suggest using durable, security-lined privacy envelopes ($1.69 per box of 50 at OfficeMax stores) as a simple and inexpensive solution to deter "mail snooping."