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ID theft takes its toll on workplaces

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This past winter one of the top box-office movies was called “Iden-tity Thief,” a lightweight comedy about a guy chasing a woman across the country after she had stolen his identity.

The flick was filled with pratfalls, sight gags and fat jokes. Its message was simple: Getting your identity stolen can be funny. But try telling that to the more than 11 million victims who each year suffer the devastating emotional toll of knowing they no longer have control over their lives.

To his credit, film critic Mick Lasalle of the San Francisco Chronicle summed up the movie quite well: “The concept of one person stealing another's identity might be amusing in the abstract, but the minute you start filling in the details, it becomes the stuff of drama, not comedy.”

Identity theft is not just a financial burden, but also a feeling of vulnerability and violation. It's why you can find support groups all over the country that deal with nothing but helping ID theft victims cope with the realization of what has befallen them—and the long and winding road needed to be traveled in order to try and resolve the situation.

Research shows it can take up to 33 hours for a victim to come to a satisfactory ID theft resolution, while some reports suggest it can take up to 600 hours for truly serious breaches to be rectified. Occasionally the problem never gets resolved. There are instances where a person's identity has been abused so badly the victim has to walk around with an affidavit saying they are the real person their ID says they are.

That's a lot of time spent on phones, emails, copying documents, running to the post office, etc. It also takes a lot of direct phone interaction with a live person—a person who works your basic 9-5 schedule.

This means when a person has their identity stolen there's also an innocent bystander about to become collateral damage: the employer.

Industry research has found conclusive evidence that legal issues cause workplace distraction, absenteeism and lost productivity. According to Corporate Wellness magazine, 48 percent of a company's employees will experience some business or personal legal-related issues (including ID theft) throughout the year, and be away from their jobs at least 51 hours per year to solve them. This time spent away from work dealing with legal issues ends up costing employers thousands of dollars in terms of overtime, absenteeism, higher insurance and compensation premium claims, administrative costs and lost employee production.

The publication further states that studies show employees with legal problems usually:

c Are absent five times more than average;

c Use their medical benefits four times more than average;

c Use their sick leave twice as often as the average employee; and

c Experience a substantial reduction in their productivity.

Identity theft issues can have a devastating effect on an employee's credit rating, their reputation, emotional state and morale. Victims often battle emotional stress akin to being the victim of a violent assault.

Employees dealing with ID theft often do not have their head in the game when on the job. They may need to make repeated phone calls, either on the company phone or going outside to talk on their cell, check personal emails, use the company fax and copy machine, take longer lunch breaks to stand in line at the post-office.

Just dealing with credit bureaus is a herculean effort. According to a recent report on 60 Minutes, the three major credit bureaus are designed to make the situation even more difficult. The report states no one on a phone has the power to help you and if you send anything to their post office box, “No one with the authority to settle your dispute will ever actually see it.”

To add to the crushing emotional toll, the fastest-rising form of ID theft is children. If you think your employee is distracted by their own legal issues, picture them having to concentrate on protecting their children.

The core of the issue is lost productivity—through either not being on the job or negligence in doing the job.

Employers may be able to tolerate something simple like a stressed-out secretary misspelling a word in a correspondence because her credit card company just charged her $5,000 for a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas she never took. But what if the distraction is life threatening, to fellow employees and customers? What an employee driving a company vehicle through a busy city street is shouting at a banker on a cellphone and doesn't notice the light is no longer green?

ID theft is a major problem in this country, and any employer who thinks they are not going to be affected by it because they handed out a pamphlet at employee orientation on how to be careful is simply sticking his or her head in the sand. Employers need to be supportive of what the employee is going through, and make every effort to make the process as stress-free as possible—both for them and the company's bottom line.

Companies need to train their HR staff on how to deal with this issue in a way that can boost employee morale, keep their eye on the ball, and do everything possible to alleviate the situation.

But most importantly, many businesses with foresight are now making identity theft services a coveted voluntary benefit. They are discovering that for a nominal cost per employee, depending on the size of the company and participation, it's a small price to pay in lieu of a reduction in productivity and revenue.

Stephanie Ward is vice president-account management at Corporate Synergies Group Inc., a Mount Laurel, N.J.-based health insurance broker and consulting firm. When recently interviewed by Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business, she stated that ID theft protection coverage is something she is including in her employment proposal information.

Other businesses, as well, are beginning to offer employees some type of protection option.

Some ID theft services have procedures in place where case managers reduce significantly the time spent by employees on the phone during work hours trying to cancel stolen credit cards by making the calls for them.

Employers are never going to be able to completely protect their employees from ID theft. But with the right mechanisms in place, they can help ease the pain, reduce the stress and keep the bottom line from hitting rock bottom.

James R. LaPiedra is president of ID Theft Solutions USA. He is a highly-decorated longtime member of the New York City Police Department, where he served as a deputy inspector until 2000, and is considered an expert in security and on the subject of identity theft. He was also responsible for security operations at both Lehman Brothers and Pershing. He is a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist. For more information visit or contact him directly at James@
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