Monday, February 06, 2006

Preventing Identity Theft: A Newspaper Report

By John Moore of The Aiken Standard
Sunday, January 22, 2006

Everyone is at risk for identity theft, but there are many precautions a person can take to greatly reduce the chances of personal information getting into the wrong hands.

Identity theft can strike anybody from birth to death and beyond,” said Dick Dewar, volunteer for the Identity Theft Resource Center and president of the Friends of the Library, during a presentation Saturday at the Aiken County Public Library.

Dewar said in 2002 there were an estimated 7 million victims of identity theft and the problem continues to grow.

“In 2000, the average victim spent 175 hours and $808 to repair their credit,” Dewar said. “In 2003, it was 600 hours and cost an average of $16,000. Once credit is lost, it’s a full time job to get it back.”

Dewar said some simple precautions can go a long way towards protecting against identity theft. “There are countless ways we are exposed daily,” Dewar said. “There are high tech and simple low tech forms of identity theft.”

The cause of identity theft can be as simple as a thief stealing a check from a mailbox or finding personal information in the garbage.

“We strongly recommend everyone to get a shredder, preferably cross-cut shredders,” Dewar said.

Dewar said mail should not be left unattended in the mailbox.

Telephone solicitation calls and the Internet are also ways identity thieves can obtain personal information.

“You can get callers claiming to be from the IRS or a bank, and you can even get an e-mail that looks like it came from your bank,” Dewar said. “Some scams look like employment ads and ask for information and even resumes for jobs.”

Dewar said to never give personal information to someone on a call you did not initiate, and to use firewall software to protect your computer.

Dewar said it is also important not to give out a Social Security number unless someone has a reason to have it.

“Make sure you know why they are collecting it,” Dewar said.

Reasons to suspect identity theft can be denied credit, unexplainable collection notices or denied drivers license renewal. In extreme cases, a person could even be arrested for actions of someone who has stolen their identity.

“Financial identity theft is when someone steals your complete identity using your name, Social Security number and driver’s license— they become you and live like you,” Dewar said.

“Criminal identity theft is when someone tells a police officer they are you and get away with it. Identity cloning is when another person uses your identity to lead an entirely new life.”

There are many other more common types of identity theft ranging from credit card fraud, theft, or account takeover to check washing and counterfeiting.

Dewar said it is important to check your credit report once a year.

More information on identity theft and resources for victims of identity theft can be found at www.IdTheftCenter.org/.

Contact John Moore at jmoore@aikenstandard.com

Consumer suggestions from the Identity Theft Resource Center:
  1. Cross-cut shred sensitive papers before they go in the trash. This includes pre-approved credit card offers, checks, insurance benefit statements, bills, statements, anything with bar-codes.

  2. Guard your Social Security number. Don’t carry it and resist giving it out unless necessary.

  3. Don’t put Social Security numbers on checks.

  4. Check your credit report once a year.

  5. Block your name from pre-approved credit card lists by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT.

  6. Guard your personal information. Carry as little as possible in your wallet. Get credit cards with your picture on them. Be alert to shoulder surfers listening for information. Cancel credit cards you no longer use.

  7. Use firewall software to protect your computer. Watch out for Internet scams.








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Behavior Management Expert and Maximizing Your Potential Mentor™ Etienne A. Gibbs is a life-observing author, engaging talk show host, humorous speaker, and successful trainer who teaches small business owners, managers, and employees how to speak, think, and perform in ways that will help them shine. In the end, they maximize their critical thinking, speaking, and management skills.

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