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Washington Mutual Launches Products to Respond to Identity Theft; Research Indicates That a Majority of Consumers Are 'Extremely Concerned' about Identity Theft

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 24, 2004--Washington Mutual, Inc. (NYSE:WM), one of the nation's leading retailers of financial services, today announced that its banking subsidiaries have launched two new products, Free ID Theft Services and ID Theft Inspect(TM), to respond to customer concerns about the possible impact of identity theft.

"Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States, with the Federal Trade Commission estimating that nearly 10 million Americans became victims of identity theft last year, a 41 percent increase over the previous year," said Doug Marshall, senior vice president of product development and deposit strategy at Washington Mutual.

"Although we already have systems in place to help customers, our research found that a majority of consumers remain extremely concerned about identity theft," added Marshall. "Furthermore, our findings indicate there is a widespread interest in services to help respond to identity theft, and we have developed these new products accordingly."

As a result, Washington Mutual is rolling out Free ID Theft Services and an enhanced product called ID Theft Inspect(TM), which is available for a monthly service fee. Marshall added, "A large majority of consumers said they were definitely interested in a free identity theft service, and a smaller but significant number also indicated they would be willing to pay for a product that offers additional benefits."

Both the Free Identity Theft Services and ID Theft Inspect(TM) provide a package of options, which include an Identity Theft Resource Center staffed by specialists who can provide information on necessary steps to recover from identity theft and assist victims to place alerts with credit bureaus, file police reports, and resolve credit disputes. The recovery specialist can also prepare a "First Aid Kit" which is developed personally for each victim and contains letters that can be sent to affected creditors and agencies. In addition, customers have access to a special Washington Mutual website with identity theft prevention tips and credit management tools, as well as access to credit education specialists who can answer general questions about credit reports and how to manage credit. A distinctive feature of the two products is insurance coverage for certain out-of-pocket expenses such as legal fees and lost wages associated with identity theft.

Free Identity Theft Services

"To our knowledge, Washington Mutual offers the most comprehensive free identity theft service for checking account customers," said Marshall. "We have a history of providing innovative products and services to our customers and, in fact, were among the first to introduce Free Checking nearly a decade ago. The identity theft service is an extension of our consumer-focused approach and another example of the added value we offer to our customers."

Marshall pointed out that a number of banks have recently announced identity theft services, but most current products do not include access to credit education specialists to help consumers better manage their credit or provide insurance coverage for certain out-of-pocket expenses such as legal fees or lost wages - which Free ID Theft Services covers up to $5,000.

ID Theft Inspect(TM)

Under the enhanced product called ID Theft Inspect(TM), which costs $10 a month, customers receive additional services to respond to identity theft and insurance coverage for certain out-of-pocket expenses up to $15,000. In addition to access to the identity theft resource center, victims of identity theft are assigned a dedicated case worker who will assist them in the reporting and recovery process.

Other highlights of the enhanced program include: a one-stop resource for canceling lost or stolen credit and debit cards, ongoing credit monitoring of all three credit bureaus, quarterly updates of any significant changes to the customer's credit reports or credit scores, credit alerts about any suspicious activity, and assistance in obtaining emergency cash advances if the customer is traveling and away from home.

Early discovery plays an important role

In fact, early discovery of identity theft fraud - which can be provided by credit monitoring and quarterly credit updates -- can play an important role in minimizing the impact of this crime, said Marshall. The Federal Trade Commission found that when the misuse of an individual's identity was discovered within five months of its onset, the value obtained by the thief was less than $5,000 in 82 percent of the cases. By comparison, when victims took six months or more to discover that their information was being misused, the thief obtained $5,000 or more in 44 percent of the cases.

In addition to checking account customers, ID Theft Inspect(TM) is available to other Washington Mutual accountholders including mortgage and other deposit accounts. Furthermore as with Free ID Theft Services, the services offered by ID Theft Inspect(TM) apply to all accounts and banking relationships held by the customer. For example, a Washington Mutual checking account customer with ID Theft Inspect(TM) would be able to use the resource center and other features if the fraudulent activity impacts other financial relationships such as a savings account, credit card, or even a home loan.

In the past, identity theft programs have mostly focused on education, said Marshall. "While consumer awareness is an important part of preventing fraud, it is often not enough -- especially given the scope and sophistication of identity thieves," he added. "Preventive steps such as credit monitoring and a more streamlined system to assist a victim through the recovery process are equally important in helping consumers to financially recover and ultimately restore their good name."

The following is a list of preventive steps that consumers can take to help prevent identity theft:

    --  Order a copy of your credit report and make sure it's accurate
        and includes only the activities you've authorized. Do this on
        a regular basis to catch mistakes and fraud before they impact
        your personal finances.

    --  Place passwords on ways to access your credit card, bank and
        phone accounts - avoid using easily available information such
        as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last 4
        digits of your Social Security Number or your phone number.

    --  Secure personal information in your home - remove your new
        mail from the mailbox promptly and send outgoing mail from the
        post office or other secure mail boxes. Shred your charge
        receipts, copies of credit applications, physician statements,
        checks and bank statements.

    --  Review your account statements on a regular basis, and use
        online or phone research to check balances and review
        transactions.

    --  When possible, use secure online services like Washington
        Mutual's Online Bill Pay and Personal Online Banking. These
        services help reduce the paper trail.

    --  Consider workplace security. Find out who has access to your
        personal information at work and verify that records are kept
        in a secure location.

    --  Don't carry your Social Security card. Leave it in a secure
        place.

    About Washington Mutual

With a history dating back to 1889, Washington Mutual is a retailer of financial services that provides a diversified line of products and services to consumers and commercial clients. At December 31, 2003, Washington Mutual and its subsidiaries had assets of $275.18 billion. Washington Mutual currently operates more than 2,400 consumer banking, mortgage lending, commercial banking, and financial services offices throughout the nation. Washington Mutual's press releases are available at www.wamu.com.


    CONTACT: Washington Mutual
             Seattle:
             Mary Kelley, 206-377-6878
             mobile, 206-459-0394
             mary.kelley@wamu.net
             or
             New York:
             Derek Aney, 646-521-3327
             mobile, 646-250-9941
             derek.aney@wamu.net
             or
             Houston:
             Joe Arbona, 713-543-6714
             mobile, 713-822-2189
             Joseph.arbona@wamu.net

    SOURCE: Washington Mutual, Inc.