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Should you insure against ID theft?

The advertisements are intentionally frightening: If someone steals your identity, you could lose your home, your job, even your life.

The ads are meant to scare you into buying identity-theft protection. And while the problem is real, insurance isn't always the answer.

In fact, most consumers could better protect their identities if they guard their Social Security numbers, read their bank and credit-card statements and request their free credit reports.

"If it hits, it could be quite destructive to your life for a long time," said Linda Foley, co-director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. "Identity theft is not a picnic, but it is repairable."

Even though Foley's former employer used Foley's personal information to apply for credit cards and purchase a cellphone, Foley considers identity-theft insurance "a personal choice item."

Her advice: Buy it only if you have the money and you want the peace of mind.

In 2004, about half of the victims surveyed by the Identity Theft Resource Center spent under 100 hours repairing the damage. Sixty-six percent said the information was used to apply for new credit cards, and 28 percent said it was used to buy a new cellphone.

Identity-theft protection varies in cost and coverage, but it either reimburses you for expenses from the theft or monitors your credit or accounts for changes.

Some insurance companies provide it free or for about $25 a year with your home insurance policy. But, in recent years, financial institutions have rolled out an array of services for about $12 a month.

American Express, for example, is pitching free as well as paid services. Its no-cost Identity Theft Assistance is available to all cardholders.

The program provides round-the-clock counselors, who help customers navigate the identity-theft maze. The company also has the typical fee-based services that monitor a customer's accounts.

Daniel Solove, a privacy expert at George Washington University Law School, finds it inappropriate that people have to pay credit bureaus for services they're legally bound to provide.

"Why should you pay for them to do their job better?" he said.

Instead, do it yourself. Consumers nationwide are entitled to get a free annual credit report. Stagger your requests among the three big firms, and you'll see what's happening every four months.

In Washington, state law allows victims of identity theft to freeze their credit reports. Those eligible are victims who have submitted a police report to the credit bureaus, and consumers who have been notified their personal data have been stolen.

However, a bill to extend the same protection to any consumer failed in the legislature earlier this month.  Source Seattle Times

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Free Personal Credit Report

Checking your credit report is mostly important now with identity theft on the rise. Credit reports are free from the government site at least one a year.

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