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Could a car accident place you at risk of identity theft?

Even when they are minor and do not result in significant injury or property damage, car accidents can be unsettling and scary, and it is easy to become overwhelmed and upset in the aftermath of a crash. Unfortunately, these feelings can make you a prime target for an especially heartless sector of criminals: identity thieves.

In fact, people who are in the business of stealing others' identities often stage car accidents in order to gain personal information about other drivers and use it to commit identity theft. They take advantage of those feelings of fear and uncertainty to convince car accident victims to divulge their name, address, telephone number, insurance information, Social Security number and other deeply personal information.

So how can drivers protect themselves from identity theft after a car accident? The first step is to know exactly what information you are required to give out and what you can (and should) keep to yourself. Unfortunately, this varies from state to state.

If you are not sure of what information you should give, here are two guidelines that you can follow in most any situation. First, a general rule is to share just the information you will need to file an insurance claim: your name, vehicle and insurance information. Most importantly: do not share your Social Security number.

Second, if you are still uncertain about sharing information with a relative stranger, the best solution is to involve the police. Not only will filing a police report help facilitate the insurance claims process, but it will also protect you from sharing any potentially-damaging information.

Source: Fox Business, "The Danger of Identity Theft After a Car Crash," Michele Lerner, Nov. 12, 2012

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