Dozens attend identity theft forum - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Dozens attend identity theft forum

January 27, 2004

Tifton- One of your first lines of defense against identity theft is as purchasing a shredder. Unshredded documents with personal information on them are like gold mines for thieves.

"We've got what we call dumpster diving. That's where people go out and they dig through trash and dig through dumpsters to get people's information. Then if you don;t use a shredder to tear that information up, those account numbers are on there," says Steve Hyman of the Tifton Police Department.

Investigators say you should destroy everything from bank or credit card statements and utility bills to credit card offers and old check deposit slips. They recommend using a cross cut shredder over one that cut straight and leaves scraps that can be easily pieced together.

"Get these mail order things out of your mail box as soon as you possible. With all these offers you get, if somebody comes by and pulls one of those out of the mail box, they can apply for that card in your name," Hyman explains.

Once a thief has your bank account or credit card number it's as easy as heading to the nearest office supply store, purchasing a check printing program, and making bogus checks on their home PC complete with your correct address, bank information, and account number.

"We are now dealing with a new statute that we've had since 2002," says District Attorney Paul Bowden.

The new law has simplified the process of prosecuting identity theft and forgery and even stiffened the penalties.

"The penalties are for the first offense one to ten years and $100,000, or both. For the second offense, it's three to 15 years, $250,000 fine, and restitution for the victim," adds Bowden.

Unfortunately it often takes the loss of thousands of dollars and several months before victims can reclaim their credit and their lives.

Almost ten million people were victims of identity theft in 2003. Here are some tips from Stop I.T. to help protect your identity:

- Regularly check your bank and billing statements; if you see something you don't understand, call and inquire.
- Be careful not to carry personal information in your wallet or purse like your social security card, bank and credit card numvers with passwords and PINs.
- If you did not initiate the call, do not give out personal information over the phone.
- Leave your social security number and driver's license numbers off your checks.
- Make sure your driver's license number is not the same as your social security number.
- Call your creditor if you haven't recieved a bill you were expecting, it could have been stolen out of your mailbox.
- Use the post office or postal boxes for outgoing mail.
- Shred or otherwise dispose of receipts and other paperwork that contains any personal identifying information.
- Regularly order a copy of your credit report to check for unusual items.
- Destroy preapproved credit card applications if you aren't going to take advantage of them. To stop the preapproved offers from coming you can call 1-888-5-optout.

Posted at 5:00 PM by elaine.armstrong@walb.com

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