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Today I read an article in the Arizona Republic about the risk of identity theft and the possible compromise of bank account information by various Bank of America account holders. None of us hope to become a victim of identity theft. Unfortunately, according to the Republic:

In 2004, metropolitan Phoenix had the highest per capita rate of identity theft in the nation.

If you suspect that you have been a victim of identify theft, perhaps you may find some useful information in this posting.

If you receive notification from a bank or suspect that confidential information has been stolen, the Federal Trade Commission has authored an informative piece on what steps you should take to preserve your identity. According to the Federal Trade Commission:

1. Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert tells creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you’re entitled to order free copies of your credit reports, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.

2. Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit (PDF, 56 KB) when disputing new unauthorized accounts.

3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report or at the very least, the number of the report, to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.

4. File your complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps us learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we can better assist you.

Next, you may consider whether your bank or other third party protected your confidential information correctly. Would you ever do business with an organization which took your credit card or social security number and simply placed it out in public for anybody to observe? Of course not. Just as you would never expect a business to place your social security number out in public, you should demand that businesses protect confidential information placed on computer. If businesses do not take reasonable steps to protect confidential data, they should be held accountable for your losses. The National Center for Victims of Crime contains additional resources about civil responsibility in case of identity theft and encourages you to also contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association to evaluate the possibility of corporate accountability in case a business failed to reasonably protect confidential information. For example, as described by the Arizona Republic in an article on February 3, 2006, the case involving disclosure of personal data of over 19,000 Honeywell employees may involve failure by the company to reasonably secure and protect the private data of its employees.

If you ever believe you have become a victim, get help and consider holding a business accountable if it did not take reasonable steps to protect your confidential information. Holding businesses accountable may help to ensure that companies protect confidential data in order to minimize future incidents of identity theft.

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