Are you who you really think you are?

The question seems silly, but for people who insure their homes and automobiles with the Bangor-based Varney Agency, the answer saves them money and time.

The question involves identity fraud, a crime that affected 8.1 million adult Americans in 2010 and cost the average victim $631 in out-of-pocket expenses per incident*. And while you think you know who you really are, a smart identity thief can convince retailers, banks, and even the U.S. Postal Service that you are somebody else.

After obtaining critical information about an individual, an identity thief poses as that person to “steal” cash and services. The victim may not realize a crime has occurred until a strange invoice arrives in the mail or unexplained charges appear on a credit card statement.

For years people believed that ID thieves lurked in the shadows around mailboxes and trashcans to steal mail that might contain personal information. Today, though, ID thieves also “work” the Internet, where potential victims often place personal information on social networking sites.

Not even email is safe. A few months ago, a freelance writer sent me an email that requested I look at a particular site. Trusting her judgment, I clicked on the link — and muttered “oh, my” when it opened.

Knowing this writer would never, ever find such a prurient video to be entertaining, I contacted her immediately. Other email “contacts” had already notified her, fortunately, and she quickly changed her compromised email address.

A month later, another friend saw his email address hijacked, too. For several days, he was not who he was supposed to be, at least on the Web.

“Identity theft can affect anyone at any time,” said Jeannie Stanhope, personal lines manager at the Varney Agency. “It’s a major problem, here in Maine and across the country.”

In 2005, “we started protecting our customers who insure their primary homes and autos with us,” she said. All such customers receive enhanced identity-theft protection through IDentityTheft 911. This service is designed to protect policyholders and their household members from fraud that can occur at various times in their lives, from birth through death.

“We’re the only agency in the State of Maine that offers this service free of charge to our customers,” Stanhope said. “Tim Varney has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting our customers. He made the investment to offer identity-theft protection.”

A customer who suspects identity fraud should contact the Varney Agency “immediately,” Stanhope said. “One reason you have an agent is so we can give you that personal assistance,” she explained. “The moment you believe your credit or identity has been compromised, you want to speak to someone you trust. You do not need to be a victim of full-blown identity theft to use the service. You can call your agent at the Varney Agency.”

A customer can also call or visit the nearest Varney Agency branch, she indicated. The agency has 22 branches in Maine and one in New Hampshire.

After identity fraud has been reported, a Varney agent will transfer the customer “over to IDentityTheft 911 while you’re on the phone with us or sitting here [in the branch] talking with your agent,” Stanhope said.

Then IDentityTheft 911 assigns a fraud specialist to work with the Varney Agency customer. The fraud specialist “steps in immediately to stop fraudulent activity involving that person,” Stanhope said.

According to Stanhope, an IDentityTheft 911 fraud specialist works with the Varney Agency customer to resolve all issues related to ID theft. Services range from contacting creditors and law-enforcement agencies to guiding a Varney Agency customer through the intricate steps involved in replacing stolen documents, such as a driver’s license, insurance cards, a passport, a birth certificate, or an ATM or debit card.

“Sometimes you misplace your wallet, or it gets stolen,” Stanhope said. “IDentityTheft 911 will help you file a police report, report the lost charge cards to your credit card company, [and] help you obtain replacement documents.”

According to Stanhope, an IDentityTheft 911 fraud specialist also educates a Varney Agency customer about the necessary steps being taken to resolve ID fraud and offers tips and practical advice on how the customer can avoid additional fraud-related problems.

With the IDT 911 “fraud specialist working for and with you, you don’t need to worry about what you need to do to get your identity back,” she said.

“It can take a great deal of time and effort to convince a creditor or a government agency about your true identity,” Stanhope said. For example, if an ID thief opens a charge account in a victim’s name, the financial institution that issues the card “really has no way of knowing if the person who actually opened the account is the victim or not,” she said.

“You say you didn’t open the account,” but it has the victim’s name, address, and perhaps other pertinent information, Stanhope explained. Proving that an ID thief opened the account “can be difficult and time-consuming, she said.

“That’s where IDentityTheft 911 is really important,” Stanhope said. “IDentityTheft 911 works closely with you and everyone else touched by the identity theft to resolve all issues.”

A Varney Agency customer can still incur expenses, such as the costs related to replacing a driver’s license or a passport or the funds lost if an identity thief used a stolen debit card to empty a checking account. However, the IDentityTheft 911 fraud specialist can build evidence that could be used in court proceedings against an identity thief, Stanhope said.

And once the Varney Agency has placed a customer in contact with IDentityTheft 911, “there is no cost to you,” she stressed. “Every service that IDentityTheft 911 provides will be free of charge.

“We value our customers,” Stanhope said. “That’s why we offer this service to them.”

To learn more about IDentityTheft 911, log onto, call 1-877-947-8637, or chat with a Varney Agency insurance agent.

* Source: Javelin Strategy & Research