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Do you fit the profile of an identity theft victim?

Do your address, job and interests make you more likely to be a victim of identity theft? Recent research shows that may, indeed, be the case.

A disproportionately high percentage of identity fraud victims live in affluent suburbs and high-density metro areas, have an advanced degree and a spouse, and are interested in politics, leisure activities such as tennis, and the arts, according to data compiled by Experian.

“While identity fraud can happen to virtually anyone, anywhere, Experian’s analysis of data from our Fraud Information Services group and Experian Marketing Services makes it clear that affluent suburbanites top the list as the most at-risk consumers,” says Jon Jones, a senior vice president at Experian Decision Analytics which helps consumers and business detect and prevent identity fraud.

Identity theft continues to rise, and affected more than 11 million victims in 2009, according to Javelin Strategy & Research Center’s 2010 study. In fact, the problem has become so prevalent that one out of every 10 people has been affected by it, says the study.

Victims of identity theft – the unauthorized use of one’s identity by another for financial gain or to procure services – have a distinct profile, according to the Experian study. When compared to non-victims, identity theft victims are:

* 43 percent more likely to live in affluent suburbs
* 73 percent more likely to have an advanced degree
* Residents of neighborhoods where the percentage of luxury vehicles is 26 percent higher

“While it wouldn’t be practical or even desirable for anyone in the highest-risk demographic to change their address, job or lifestyle out of fear of identity fraud, these people – and all of us – should take reasonable fraud protection steps,” Jones says.

Here are several steps consumers can take to protect themselves from identity fraud:

* Do everything you can to protect your Social Security number. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Never use your Social Security number and card as a substitute for other forms of identification like your driver’s license or insurance number. Be particular about what businesses you share your number with; ask why they need it, if it’s optional to provide or required to provide, and what might happen if you choose not to share it.

* Shred bills, receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician and bank statements, and any other document that has identifying information on it before you throw it away. Identity thieves pick through trash and recycling bins to find personal information.

* Use complex passwords for online accounts and verify the source of any request for personal or account information before you share this information over the Internet – or by phone or even mail. Businesses with which you already have an existing account should not ask you to provide account or personally identifying information. Such a request may actually be coming from an identity thief posing as a legitimate business.

Many consumers are also relying on identity theft protection products, likeProtectMyID.com to reduce their risk of exposure to identity fraud. The product helps stop identity theft by monitoring your credit daily through all three major credit bureaus, scanning the Internet daily to search for fraudulent use of your identifying information, and notifying you when anything is found. Fraud resolution agents provide subscribers with personal assistance in resolving identity theft issues and in protecting information if a member’s wallet is lost or stolen. If you’re a small-business owner, ProtectMyID can also help protect your customers (and you) from identity theft risks. Log on to www.protectmyid.com to learn more.

If you suspect you are the victim of identity theft, contact the credit reporting agencies immediately. They have plans in place to address fraud. For example, Experian offers a 24/7 automated hotline that allows you to add a security alert to your credit file, remove your name from prescreened credit solicitation lists, request a complimentary report, and have your request shared with other national credit reporting companies. Associates specially trained in consumer fraud help you identify fraudulent items on your report and initiate an investigation. As soon as data is confirmed as fraudulent, the credit agency blocks it from view by creditors and removes it from the report as quickly as possible.

“Identity fraud isn’t likely to go away, but by understanding who is most at risk, and how to deprive thieves of opportunity, consumers can protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft,” Jones says.

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