The U.S. Treasury conducted a poll in Houston that found 20 percent have had checks, important documents or large sums of money stolen. Forty percent of Houston respondents say they have been a victim of identity theft or know someone who has. As the problem persists, the number of advertisements for identity protection plans also seems to be growing. Better Business Bureau President Dan Parsons is concerned that these plans give a false sense of security.
"I've paid for this service. I don't ever have to worry. I'm going to be notified which takes the burden of a smart consumer and throws it in the hand of someone else."
Parsons says people should ask a key question before purchasing an identity protection plan.
"If you're going to give up total control of your credit to someone other than yourself, who are you giving it to."
Parsons says not only do you have to watch out for scams, but also take into consideration how long a company has been in business.
"I mean it's almost a joke how many people get in these things, companies that are here one year and gone the next. Not fraud, not bad intent. They just could never make a living with it, but they've got all your information and again, your guard is down."
Parsons says the concept of identity protection plans and the need for such a product are valid. He recommends people check their credit reports regularly and to stay on top of bills and bank statements, whether or not there's a protection plan in place. But identity theft is one of those crimes that even the most conscientious book keeper can't necessarily prevent.
"We firmly believe well over half, in the ballpark of 60 percent of identity theft, is unpreventable on the front end. It is electronic. It is data base breaches. It's called identity coat-tailing. It's not leaving your receipt in a restaurant or at the bank or even having someone go through your mail. It's high-tech, it's not low-tech."
Parson also points out that when data are stolen, many thieves will wait before using the information.
"Most people have stable credit histories. Their social doesn't change. Their lines of credit are relatively the same. So they'll let your guard get down. In other words, when those stories are out there, you're looking at your bills and you're looking. And your guard goes down after a year a two and that's when they go and hit you."
Parsons says it takes on average six to 12 months to recover from an identity theft. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.