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'Tis the season for identity theft: protect yourself during the holidays

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December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness month, and it's not difficult to see why: women's retailer Bebe Stores Inc. confirmed it was the victim of a data security attack in November, according to a Dec. 5 article in the Wall Street Journal.

"Based on a company investigation, the attack affected cards used from Nov. 8 to Nov. 26 in the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Data accessed may have included names, account numbers, expiration dates and verification codes," ("Bebe Stores Detects Security Breach," Wall Street Journal: December 5, 2014).

Sony Pictures also confirmed a recent database hack, which resulted in the release of the information about their 6,800 employees, including full names, birth dates, medical data, Social Security numbers and salaries.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has been the No. 1 consumer complaint for 14 consecutive years. These recent breaches remind us that identity theft is a crime that does not discriminate; everyone faces of the risk of having their identity stolen, and that risk increases dramatically during the holiday season.

"While it currently seems impossible to prevent these database breaches from happening, there are steps everyone can take to prepare themselves and recover quickly if they become a victim of identity theft," says Frank N. Darras, America's top insurance lawyer. "There are many ways to monitor identity theft on your own, but insurance is also available to provide terrific protection for you."

Many insurance companies offer identity theft insurance, often as a rider to a basic homeowner's policy or as a standalone purchase. Cost of coverage generally ranges from $20 to $60 a year, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Identity theft insurance can cover credit alerts, account and credit monitoring, and reimbursement for costs associated with repairing your credit history if you become a victim. Policies vary, so ask for an exemplar of the policy so you can read what is covered and what isn't.

Even if you determine identity theft insurance is not right for you, there are many affordable monitoring services available to help you catch unusual activity as it happens.

"It is always best to look at your current insurance policies and talk with your trusted insurance agent to determine what is best for you and your family," Darras says. "Be sure to read the policies carefully so you can understand what you're buying. Whether you decide to purchase insurance or take advantage of other services and monitor your own identity, it is important to be vigilant and protect yourself from the devastating effects of identity theft this holiday season."

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