updated 5/25/2005 10:20:17 AM ET 2005-05-25T14:20:17

MetLife Inc., one of the nation’s largest insurers, is rolling out a new program this week to provide free help in resolving cases of identity theft for all of its homeowner insurance policyholders.

Noel Edsall, director of MetLife Auto & Home product development, told The Associated Press that the ID theft resolution service would be launched first in New York and Florida, then expand nationwide.

While several insurance companies sell ID theft coverage, mainly to reimburse consumers for their costs in dealing with misuse of their credit cards or other accounts, MetLife will be the first that works with consumers to resolve their problems at no cost.

“Our research over the last couple of years indicated that people needed help and assistance, not expense reimbursement,” Edsall said.

The program, which will be available to the nearly 1 million MetLife homeowners and renters policyholders, comes at a time that ID theft concerns are reaching epidemic proportions.

Thieves gain access to records
In recent weeks, several data collection companies have disclosed that thousands of their records were tapped by thieves. ID theft also tops the list of frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission, which coordinates the government’s consumer fraud prevention efforts.

Edsall said that the program will help consumers with identity theft, which can involve a fraudster taking over someone’s identity and opening new accounts or buying cars, as well as account takeovers, which often involves the theft of a credit card.

Matt Cullina, manager of the MetLife team that developed the new service, said that MetLife policyholders who are victimized by ID thieves will be urged to phone the MetLife call center listed on their policies.

From there they will be directed to specialists at Identity Theft 911 LLC of Scottsdale, Ariz., which provides ID theft resolution services.

Program acts ‘as advocate’
Sheryl Cox Christenson, the company’s chief executive, said ID theft victims often don’t know how to begin addressing their problems.

Identity Theft 911 “serves as an advocate,” she said, providing services ranging from preparing affidavits to contacting local police and notifying credit bureaus on a consumer’s behalf.

“In addition, we may get people who feel they’ve been exposed to the possibility of ID theft, say they get a letter from a business that says their account number has been stolen or they lose a wallet,” Christenson said. “We are a place for those people to call, to get advice and hopefully stop anything bad from happening to them.”

Several major banks, including Citigroup Inc. and Washington Mutual Inc., offer free identity theft services for their customers, but they generally focus on the most onerous cases. There are also a number of nonprofit groups that provide advice to ID theft victims, including the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, which operates the site www.idtheftcenter.org.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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