NEW YORK — MetLife Inc., one of the nation's largest insurers, is rolling out a program this week to provide free help in resolving cases of identity theft for its homeowners' and renters' insurance customers.
Though several insurance companies sell identity 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," said Noel Edsall, director of auto and home product development at MetLife.
The program will be launched in New York and Florida and eventually will be available to all of MetLife's nearly 1 million homeowners' and renters' policyholders.
The service comes as concerns about identity theft are growing. In recent weeks, several data collection companies have disclosed that thousands of their records were tapped by thieves. Identity theft tops the list of frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission, which coordinates the government's consumer fraud prevention efforts.
Identity theft can involve a fraudster taking over someone's identity and opening new accounts or buying cars in that person's name, as well as taking over accounts held by him or her.
Matt Cullina, manager of the MetLife team that developed the service, said MetLife policyholders who were victimized by identity thieves would be urged to phone the MetLife call center listed on their policies.
From there they will be directed to specialists at Identity Theft 911 of Scottsdale, Ariz., which provides identity theft resolution services.
Sheryl Cox Christenson, the company's chief executive, said identity theft victims often might not 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. Some nonprofit groups provide advice to identity theft victims, including the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, which operates the site www.idtheftcenter.org.