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Lose your name, lose your shirt

May 2, 2001

It's happened in Albany, it's happened in Sylvester, it's happened in Ashburn, it's even happened many times in the tiny town of Arlington. "It could happen to anybody, could happen to me, could happen to you," Credit Educator Nita Gaines says.

It's called I.D. theft, and it's costing Americans a whole lot of money-- two billion dollars a year.

"Whenever I go out and talk to people there's always somebody who says, let me tell you what happened to me," Gaines says.

One person who's heard of a lot of people losing their life savings is the Better Business Bureau's Stacy Horne. "Most recent one we had was an elderly woman got credit card threw the whole thing in garbage and he went out and charged all kinds of merchandise," Horne says.

Getting a hold of your credit card is one way a thieve can get your money, but as experts say they require a lot less than that. Just a credit card number, found on a receipt in the trash or given out over the internet or phone can mean financial disaster. And as Horne tells us the same goes for checks and checking accounts.

"People don't realize that just by giving your checking account over the phone I can take whatever out I want," she says.

For many it's convenience at a cost. "When you put money in a checking account it's available to you by writing a check, ATM at an instant," banker Luke Flatt says.

But just as quickly, someone can get your money with the right pieces of information. One of the things Georgia's Governor Roy Barnes is most concerned with protecting is your social security number. That's why the DMV no longer encourages keeping it the same as your license number and the General Assembly tightened the reins on state offices releasing the information. But the responsibility of protecting yourself really falls on you.

"There's a way to safeguard that info and still have the convenience of having credit, debit, ATM, just a matter of using good common sense." Flatt says. And taking some simple precautions.

-Don't give out personal information over the phone, or internet unless you know who you're dealing with and where they're located.

-Tear up or shred any personal information before tossing it out.

-Never keep your ATM passcode in your wallet.

-And most importantly always check your bank statements and credit reports to make sure everything adds up.

You can check your credit by calling the three major credit unions, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.

If you find you have been a victim of Identity theft there are ways to recapture much of what you've lost. You should contact the fraud departments of those three credit bureaus. Contact your bank and creditors to get the accounts closed as quickly as possible.

And finally, contact your local police department. Under new law it's a federal felony offense that can carry up to thirty years in prison.