A growing number of insurers are harnessing technology to improve services to customers victimized by identity theft.Some have established outreach programs that give policyholders access to third-party identity theft restoration services. One of them, Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance Co., is providing other capabilities as well.

In May, the property-casualty provider entered into an alliance it believes surpasses typical ID theft recovery initiatives currently on the market. As part of an alliance with Washington, D.C.-based ID Theft Assist, Nationwide policyholders, for about $45 annually, not only are able to access critical real-time identity theft recovery services, but can do so as part of a supplemental insurance policy.

Nationwide rolled out the new coverage plan in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut on May 1, and plans to offer the program to most other U.S. markets by July. The product is also available to policyholders of Nationwide's subsidiary, Allied Insurance Co.

Nationwide anticipates that the value-added service will resonate well with its customer base for the simple fact that identity theft has become too significant to ignore over the past two years. To acquire ID theft recovery service separately from ID Theft Assist would cost $150 a year. Nationwide customers can now select ID theft coverage built into an existing policy-typically a homeowner's policy-and save $105 in the process.

Over the past 12 months, Nationwide has seen a higher level of requests from both agents and customers for a product that increases the scope and scale of identity theft protection and restoration, says Scott Cummins, property director for Nationwide's property/casualty personal lines product office.

"This identity theft coverage really takes the legwork out of recovering one's stolen identity. So offering a combination of insurance with a real-time identity recovery system is unlike anything we've seen in the marketplace. This partnership provides our customers with real-time assistance as they work to restore their good name," adds Cummins.

A personal matter

Cummins' role in formulating Nationwide's identity theft restoration program was in part motivated by personal experience. Several years ago, the executive was himself a victim, and to this day still can't pinpoint how he was vulnerable.

What he does know is the time it took to restore his credit reputation was extensive. "At the outset, it took me 80 hours over the course of five days to perform the initial legwork," explains Cummins.

"Notarized statements had to be delivered to 11 different entities (such as creditors and credit report service providers). All totaled, the situation took 45 days to be resolved. I was away from my family for an extended period of time. The thing is, I thought I was insulated from this type of crime: I have all the required firewall and virus protection software on my PC, but I still was victimized," he says.

Cummins asserts that eating up 80 hours to perform initial damage control for this crime is far too long, because in those crucial extra hours perpetrators are able to take significant additional liberties. That's where ID Theft Assist enters the picture, says Cummins.

Launched in January 2004, ID Theft Assist provides full-service, comprehensive identity recovery services featuring around-the-clock access to an emergency call center; instantaneous access to credit reports (customer don't have to pay extra, as with other products on the market); worldwide service that includes language translation and emergency cash advances; and emotional and legal support.

Moreover, customer who opt for the service discover that rather than making multiple phone calls and sending out myriad letters to creditors, they only need to make one call.

Technology plays a role in the process, states Cummins, in that ID Theft Assist has developed real-time online access to credit report services provider TransUnion, Chester, Pa. This instantaneous access is critical in the hours following an identity theft violation, when victims must mobilize quickly to obtain the required affidavits and forms for creditors stating that an account may be fraudulent.

Cummins says these steps are integral to the restoration process, but he believes prevention is key. That's why Nationwide works diligently with policyholders in advocating prevention of these crimes in the first place.

"Consumers don't understand the potential catastrophic nature of an event like this," states Cummins.

"We quickly have moved into an age where a person's personal information is available in digital format, and thus the risk is much higher."

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