If the Target security breach proves anything, it’s this: No one is safe from identity theft scammers. Authorities are still looking for the creator of the malware that compromised the credit card numbers and other personal information of up to 110 million Target customers in November and December.
Target has done its best to make amends: In mid-January it informed customers it had partnered with Experian to give guests who shopped in U.S. Target stores a free year of Experian’s ProtectMyID service, which includes a free credit report, daily credit monitoring, identity theft insurance, and identity theft resolution, which allows individuals who’ve been the victim of identity theft to work with a dedicated fraud resolution agent.
“We understand some guests are nervous about the impact the recent data breach may have on them,” Target spokesperson Sarah Van Nevel says. “ProtectMyID goes beyond credit and debit card fraud and addresses identity theft. We’re offering this product in order to ease guest concerns and provide peace of mind.”
Experian spokeswoman Sandra Bernardo says she can’t disclose just how many Target customers have signed up for the service, but chatter on the company’s social media sites show that a newsmaking event like the Target breach puts the issue of identity theft front and center.
And it’s making identity theft protection front and center, too, giving brokers a great opportunity to educate their clients about the products available to them.
“What’s great about it is that brokers and their clients can ultimately play a part in navigating this world — understanding not only the threat of identity theft, but what you can do to protect yourself as an added value to the employees,” says Nick Rockwell, director of benefit solutions for LifeLock, an identity-theft protection company based in Tempe, Ariz.
“At the end of the day, a lot of the broker’s clients, the human resources departments, will say, ‘We, just like any other company, for both our clients and our employees, we have the same risk, we have the same threat,” he says. “Offering a protective mechanism to these people is just so extremely relevant.”
As the world becomes more digital — and sensitive data easier to steal — the problem of identity theft continues to grow. According to the Department of Justice, there were 16.6 million identity theft victims in 2012, and 25 billion worth of losses, Rockwell says.
“That’s the impact, and we’re going on 13 years of this being the No. 1 consumer complaint in America,” Rockwell says. “There’s nothing new about this, but what Target’s showing people is that our information is everywhere. We’re constantly sharing information, and as a result we have to be mindful about what can happen with that. The same conveniences that make us be able to do so many things in a mobile world and on the go come with that increased risk.”
Services like LifeLock can’t get you back money lost to identity theft — that’s what banks are for — but they can serve as virtual watchdogs, letting clients know when new accounts are being applied for their names and helping them repair the damage when identity theft does occur.
Wisconsin-based ISG Advisors offers employers LifeLock services at a discounted rate — about $25 a month for the top-tier product — paid for with a payroll deduction. “Fifty percent of the business that we do is retirement planning, so we’re talking with people about their financial position day in and day out,” says president John Braddock. “For us this is just another natural thing to talk about — protecting your assets.”
Consumers and employers are also getting on board with products like Lifelock and ProtectMyID: Identity theft protection is among the top voluntary benefit offerings to watch for employers, according to results from a 2013 Voluntary Benefits and Services Survey conducted by Towers Watson; and Braddock says that at a benefits fair held in late October — well before the Target incident — 65 percent of employees surveyed indicated interest in either learning more about or signing for identity theft protection.
“At every employee meeting and webinar we conduct, someone has had their identity stolen or they know someone who has,” says Stacey Karom, assistant vice president of Euclid Managers Concierge Services in Itasca, Ill. “We are finding more employers are looking for identity theft protection for their employees. Even prior to the recent media coverage regarding the multiple data breaches, many employers resonated with the fact that it takes typically 36 hours for an employee to resolve an identity breach.”
James Rosseau, EVP and president of Oklahoma-based LegalShield Solutions, says incidents like what happened with Target inevitably lead to more consumer interest in identity-theft product.
“Individuals are calling our offices looking for how to safeguard their identities and protect themselves,” he says. “Not only have we had increased calls and email inquiries from individuals who are not members, our members themselves have utilized their benefits by consulting with the investigators concerning their individual concerns and asking questions regarding any steps they should to take in order to minimize the risks often associated with a data breach.”
In all, it’s a perfect time for brokers to position themselves as identity-theft experts, working with companies such as LifeLock to offer clients an ancillary benefit that eases fears about the ubiquity of information.
“What I like to tell brokers is, ‘Let us help you become a consultant,’” Rockwell says. “Really what you’re doing here is introducing a whole new category. Brokers offer protections from the costs of health care, protections from the cost of accidents and illness — all very noble things, very health related, but there’s something that people deal with in life that isn’t really covered in any benefits, and that’s crime. Being able to address a category like that with a proactive system is a whole new thing that a broker can come in and talk about.”