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Preventing Identity Theft at a Summer Car Crash

By Juliette Fairley

NEW YORK ( MainStreet)--Nearly 9 million consumers have their identities stolen each year, which disrupts finances, damages credit histories and reputations, according to the Federal Trade Commission. One way unsuspecting way that identity theft can occur is during a car accident.

A National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) survey found that many Americans put their identities and safety at risk by sharing too much personal information after a car accident.

"The last thing you're probably thinking about following a car accident is protecting your privacy," says NAIC President and Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin M. McCarty. "Understanding what information to share will help keep you safe after an accident and decrease some of the challenges of filing a claim later."

Consumers generally need only share their names, correct vehicle insurance information and the phone numbers of insurance providers . Sharing additional personal information, such as driver's license numbers and home addresses, puts consumers, their property and safety at risk.

"A car crash can leave you feeling overwhelmed, frightened and vulnerable," Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine said. "Even if the crash appears to be minor, consumers need to document what happened and contact their insurance company to start the claims process."

A mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones called WreckCheck enables consumers to complete an accident report to be emailed to themselves and their insurance agents.

The NAIC survey revealed consumers are unsure as to when to call the police or what personal information to exchange with the other driver after an accident. Below are five tips on how to prevent identity theft during a car accident:

  • Nearly 40% of respondents felt they should share their driver's licenses while one in six said they would allow the other driver to photograph their licenses as a convenient way to exchange information. The risk, however, is that many retailers accept driver's license information as a common way to verify identity over the phone.
  • Some 25% of consumers would share their home addresses but sharing this information gives identity thieves the physical location of one's mail or garbage, which often is where they look for personal or financial information about their victims. It also means they know where their victim lives, putting his or her personal safety in jeopardy.
  • Almost 30% of drivers think they are required to share their personal phone numbers. In fact, sharing personal phone numbers is not necessary.
  • Close to 20% of people believe the only reason to call the police after an accident is if someone is injured. However, filing a police report can help facilitate the insurance claims process.
  • Visit InsureUonline. org for additional information about what to do following an auto accident. Also available on the site is a downloadable accident checklist and a video demo.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet