February 25, 2013 8:00 AM, EST
Opinion: ID Theft Takes a Toll on Drivers, Carriers

By James LaPiedra


ID Theft Solutions USA


This Opinion piece appears in the Feb. 25 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

A top box-office movie this winter was “Identity Thief,” a lightweight comedy about a guy chasing a woman across the country after she stole his identity. The movie’s message was simple: Getting your identity stolen can be funny.

Try telling that to the more than 11 million victims who each year suffer the devastating emotional toll of knowing they no longer have control over their lives and a stranger is draining their bank account and using credit cards opened in their name.

Research shows it can take as long as 33 hours for a victim to come to a satisfactory ID-theft resolution. Some reports suggest it can take up to 600 hours for truly serious breaches to be rectified, and sometimes the problem is never resolved.

The victim spends an enormous amount of time e-mailing, copying documents, running to the post office and, of course, talking on the phone.

That takes a lot of direct telephone interaction during business hours — one of many reasons the situation isn’t going to help victims’ job performance. In fact, any time a person’s identity is stolen, there’s also an innocent bystander about to become collateral damage — the employer.

The problem of employee ID theft is particularly complicated for trucking and other transportation-related companies. They have office workers, dispatchers, trainers, etc., at home base and possibly working that traditional 9-to-5 day. But they also have commercial drivers in a very bad situation by virtue of their jobs to cope with ID theft.

Identity theft is bad enough for a person who goes home from work every night and can get extra time off from a sympathetic boss. In the case of a longhaul driver, the ID-theft situation is much more complicated. Jumping out of the truck cab and running into the post office in a strange town along his route, finding the nearest copying center or dealing with stacks of paperwork is just not going to happen with an over-the-road driver fighting to pull his life back together — and still comply with the hours-of-service rules.

And yet, drivers can’t just hand over their lives to thieves.

Industry research has found conclusive evidence that any kind of legal issues cause workplace distraction, absenteeism and lost productivity. According to Corporate Wellness magazine, 48% of a company’s employees will experience some business or personal legal issues — including ID theft — throughout the year and will be away from their jobs at least 51 hours per year to solve them.

Even with an ordinary 9-to-5 worker, time spent away from work dealing with any legal issue ends up costing employers thousands of dollars in overtime, absenteeism, higher insurance and compensation premium claims, administrative costs and lost employee production.

In the case of truck drivers, ID theft couldn’t happen at a worse time. Driver behavior is now under a regulatory magnifying glass, thanks to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and its close scrutiny of driver behavior. The distraction potential of a driver trying to put his identity crisis to rest while still paying attention to what’s happening on the interstate is disturbing, to say the least.

Employees dealing with ID theft do not have their heads in the game when on the job. Just dealing with the credit bureaus is a herculean effort.

The core of the issue is lost productivity, either through not being on the job to negligence while doing the job. And what if the distraction is life-threatening? What if the guy driving a delivery truck through a busy city street is shouting at his banker on his cellphone and doesn’t notice the light has turned red?

ID theft is a major problem, and just handing out a pamphlet telling employees to be careful won’t help. Employers need to be supportive of what the employee is going through and make every effort to make the process as stress-free as possible both for the sake of the employee and for the company’s bottom line.

Companies need to train their human resources staff on how to deal with ID theft in a way that boosts employee morale and does everything possible to alleviate the situation. For example, many businesses now offer identity theft services as a coveted voluntary benefit. They are discovering that the nominal cost per employee for coverage — depending on company size and participation — is a small price to pay in lieu of reductions in productivity, revenue and even safety.

Some ID theft services have procedures in place where case managers significantly reduce time spent by employees on the phone during working hours trying to cancel stolen credit cards simply by making the calls for them. That alone would be a tremendous help in the case of employees like truck drivers who don’t work the traditional 9-to-5.

Employers never will be able to completely protect employees from ID theft. But with the right mechanisms in place, they can ease the pain, reduce the stress and keep the company’s bottom line from hitting bedrock.

ID Theft Solutions USA, Mahwah, N.J., works to prevent identity theft and to recover the victim’s identity once it has been stolen. The author was a longtime member of the New York City Police Department.