More than 15 million Americans now fall victim to identity theft criminals each year, and the numbers are growing at an exponential rate with each passing year, according to Department of Justice statistics.
The “2017 Identity Fraud Study” from Javelin Strategy & Research found that identity thieves stole more than $16 billion from 15.4 million individuals. Over the past six years, ID thieves have stolen more than $107 billion in total.
While the identity theft threat has typically come in the form of malicious e-mails with bogus links that allow hackers entry into your files, there is a new threat emerging: mobile account hijacking.
How It Works
With mobile account hijacking, criminals steal mobile devices, or otherwise obtain your mobile account information, and buy mobile devices in your name. They then sell these devices, purchased in your name, leaving you with the bill.
Wireless carriers are now moving aggressively to counter the threat, adding features like two-factor authorization, password protections, PINs and other security features – but customers have to be diligent about using these countermeasures.
A Growing Trend
According to Federal Trade Commission data, there were 1,038 known incidents of mobile account hijacking in just one month, in January of 2013. By January of 2016, the number had more than doubled to 2,658.
All four major wireless carriers were reporting incidents. In some instances, thieves had loaded financial apps onto victims’ phones and racked up shopping bills in the victim’s name – and that’s where consumers are exposed to serious losses.
If the thief just buys a cell phone in your name and sells it, your carrier will take the loss. However, your carrier won’t cover other losses from charges that the thieves ring up with other vendors. Some victims have seen thieves break into their bank and credit accounts and clean them out, or take out loans in their name, resulting in serious problems on their credit reports that can take weeks or months to clean up.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself from most of these losses – and very affordably. A number of prominent insurance carriers provide identity theft insurance that covers mobile account hijacking and a variety of other possible crimes. Typically, these plans provide coverage that includes the following:
• Direct losses (up to $10,000 to $25,000 is typical on a base policy)
• Assignment of a case manager to help you repair your credit report
• Access to a consumer fraud specialist
• One year of credit monitoring services
• Reasonable attorney fees – to help you re-establish your good name
• Lost wages from time off work taken to meet with attorneys and take other actions required to recover from the ID theft
• Travel expenses related to the theft
• Certified mail costs
• Long-distance phone calls to creditors and merchants
• Application fees needed to reapply for loans refused because of credit damage due to identity theft or fraud
• Assistance at audits or hearing
• Defense attorney fees against civil suits arising from the identity theft
• Costs associated with removing civil judgments wrongfully entered against you as a result of ID theft
Some carriers also provide an emergency cash advance if the ID theft strikes when you are traveling.
Insurance carriers and their vendors also frequently provide direct assistance with making necessary phone calls to vendors, banks and other financial institutions to help recover control of your accounts and access to your funds, as well as replace documents stolen by identity thieves.
Some vendors provide stand-alone coverage, but the most efficient coverage may be obtained as a rider to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy for just a few dollars per month. Employer groups may wish to offer identity theft protection as a benefit to their employees.
Considering both the direct and indirect costs of all forms of identity theft, and the time and effort it takes to recover from it, purchasing identity theft coverage may be a smart bet.
Allan Phillips is a Managing Principal at UBF and has over 25 years experience as a senior health care and pension consultant. He has worked with Fortune 50, 500 and mid-size companies to assess, develop, and implement integrated benefits programs for global organizations.