Avoid identity theft at a crash scene

By Mark Chalon Smith on September 2nd, 2012

You just had a car accident and you're flustered. You may even be confused about what information to share with the other motorist.

Well, you'd be wrong thinking you need to exchange your home address, personal phone number or details off your driver's license. Law enforcement and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) says all that's unnecessary and, in fact, may raise your chances of becoming an identity theft victim.

Just how bad is identity theft in the U.S.? Referring to statistics from the Federal Trade Commission, the NAIC says it's one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, affecting nearly nine million consumers every year.

Here's what the NAIC says you should provide after a crash:

  • Your name

  • Your vehicle details (including the make, model, year, color, license plate and VIN)

  • You insurance company (agent name and phone number, policy number and expiration date)

  • Names of witnesses at the scene

  • Information provided by police

The NAIC recently released its free "WreckCheck" mobile app to help make it easier (and safer) to exchange only necessary details with another driver and compile an insurance accident report. Information on the app, which works with most smartphones (including iPhones and those using the Android operating system), can be found at WreckCheck. The association also has a downloadable accident checklist if you don't have a smartphone.

The NAIC conducted a survey recently and found that many drivers were unsure about what information should be shared. Among the findings:

  • Thirty-eight percent of drivers thought it was reasonable, even expected, to provide the other motorist with their driver's license number. One in six said they'd let their license be photographed by the other driver.

Bad move, says the NAIC, which points out that thieves could use your license info to compromise your identity.

  • About 25 percent of drivers said they would give out their home address.

Another bad idea. The NAIC notes that criminals often visit homes and sift through trash to find personal information in unshredded bank and insurance statements and other revealing correspondences.

  • Twenty-nine percent thought they were required to share personal phone numbers.

No, not necessary. The NAIC says you may be putting your identity and safety at risk by exchanging the number.

  • About a fifth of those surveyed thought the only time you need to call law enforcement is if someone is injured during the accident.

But the NAIC points out that you should routinely file a police report because it will help your insurer move forward with the insurance claim. The association also notes that if you're unhappy with the final claim settlement, you can learn how to challenge it at your state's department of insurance (find it at State Insurance Regulators). Most states have consumer advocates that provide information and advice.

Mark Chalon Smith
As a writer and editor, Mark Chalon Smith has covered a spectrum of subjects from personal finance and the stock market to the arts and entertainment. He wrote for the Los Angeles Times for several years and his articles appear regularly in new media and more traditional sources.
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