In today's digital age, when personal information is shared and stored online, the threat of identity theft looms large. There are so many identifying details, and it can be hard to know which ones are safe to share and with whom. Most people keep their social security numbers and passwords close to the vest. But many will happily share their credit card numbers on some sketchy e-commerce sites.
One number that sometimes gets forgotten is your insurance policy number. And yet insurance identity theft is a big business. Identity theft as a whole occurs every 22 seconds in the United States, and nearly a third of Americans will be affected by identity theft at some point in their lives.
Imagine waking up one day to find out that your insurance policy number has been stolen. This could happen during a data breach or if someone breaks into your vehicle and you keep it in the glove box. What is a policy number and how important is it? Should you be concerned?
What is an insurance policy number?
A policy number is a unique identifier assigned by an insurance company to your specific policy. It is typically between nine and thirteen digits long and contains both letters and numbers. You can usually find your policy number on your insurance card, on bills from your insurance company and in the online portal or mobile app.
Your account number is an important identifier for your coverage, making it a valuable piece of data for both you and potential criminals. This number is used in various interactions with your insurance provider, such as filing insurance claims, accessing policy details and communicating about your auto insurance coverage.
What if your policy number is stolen?
If a criminal gains access to your insurance policy number, they can exploit it in several ways:
Fraudulent claims: A thief might use your policy number to file false claims, leading to financial losses for both you and your insurance company. This is more frequently seen in health insurance, but can occur in car insurance as well. These claims can range from fabricated accidents to medical procedures that never occurred.
Medical identity theft: As mentioned above health insurance policies are often targets for identity theft. Criminals can use your insurance information to obtain medical services, prescriptions or surgeries, leaving you without your benefits when you need them.
Committing insurance fraud: Criminals might use your policy number to pretend to be you and obtain new insurance policies, committing fraud under your identity. This can damage your reputation and financial standing.
Access to sensitive information:Insurance policies often contain personal details like your address, phone number and social security number. This information, coupled with your policy number, can enable criminals to steal your identity on a broader scale.
How to protect your insurance identity in the event of a theft
You can’t help it if you’re the victim of a car theft, but there are steps you can take to safeguard your insurance identity. Consider these proactive measures:
Don’t keep insurance information in your vehicle. Many people keep their car insurance policy information and registration with their vehicle identification number in their glove box, making it easy to find for thieves. While it’s helpful to have this information at the ready, it’s better to keep it on your phone or keep the paper copies on your person. If you must leave it in the vehicle, consider a less well-known hiding spot, like under the front seat.
Protect your vehicle. Ensure your car insurance coverage includes comprehensive coverage to protect against auto theft or vandalism (among other things).
Don’t be an easy mark. Always lock your car doors and never leave the key fob in the vehicle. Keep your alarm on at all times. When possible, park in well-lit areas or close to surveillance cameras.
Don’t give your information away!
Unless you are 100% sure of the recipient, never send photocopies of your driver's license or information like your insurance number online or over the phone. Cybercriminals might call or email pretending they're your insurance agent or with the Department of Motor Vehicles, but it’s really a phishing scam. Hang up and call the DMV or your car insurance company directly to confirm it's them.
How to avoid or mitigate the affects of identity theft
With so many data breaches and increasingly clever cybercrime technology, identity theft can feel inevitable, but there are things you can do to help
Regularly monitor your accounts: Regularly check your insurance statements and bills for any discrepancies or unfamiliar activities. Monitor your credit report and medical records. Report any suspicious transactions immediately.
Secure personal information: Keep your policy documents, insurance cards and any other related paperwork in a secure location. Shred documents containing sensitive information before disposing of them.
Use strong passwords: Protect online accounts related to your insurance products, tax information, credit, etc. with complex, unique passwords. Avoid using easily guessable information, such as birthdays or names.
Beware of phishing attempts: Be cautious when receiving unsolicited communications requesting your insurance information or other personal data. Verify the authenticity of the request before sharing any details.
Update privacy settings: Adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts and limit the information visible to the public. Criminals often exploit social media to gather personal details and contact information.
Insurance identity theft is a real and growing concern. By staying vigilant and taking proactive steps to protect your policy number and related information, you can minimize the risk of falling victim to this insidious crime. Remember, awareness and caution are your best defenses in the digital age.