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Protect yourself from becoming a victim of ID theft

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Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2011 12:00 pm

By Richard Kitterman

Special to the Daily Herald

Did you know that Texas ranks No. 5 of all 50 states for having the most victims of identity theft? And between all the largest metropolitan areas across the U.S., Killeen ranks No. 57 with a total of 377 complaints filed last year alone.

Unfortunately, identity theft is a common crime that affects millions. While you're probably aware of identity theft and how it can happen, many people seem to think "it's never going to happen to me." But that's not necessarily true. If you're careless with personal documents or don't properly protect your personal information, you can easily become a victim of identity theft.

So what exactly happens when a thief steals your identity? According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, such as your name, Social Security number or credit card number without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.

Identity theft can take many forms. The most common ways thieves use stolen identities is credit card fraud, where someone obtains a credit card in your name; phone or utilities fraud, which involves the thief opening a phone account in your name or getting utilities services in your name; bank and finance fraud used to create counterfeit checks, open a checking account or open a loan in your name; and government documents fraud where someone will try and obtain a driver's license in your name with their picture, or use your Social Security number for government benefits.

But how do they get my information in the first place? Well, there are many ways thieves steal identities, such as:

Dumpster diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.

Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.

Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.

Changing your address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.

Old-fashioned stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.

Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

Identity theft can happen fast and can continue for a while without victims even realizing it's happening. The good thing is, if you're safe and follow simple steps to protect yourself you can drastically decrease your chances of becoming a victim.

Knowing what identity theft is and how it can happen is the first step to protecting yourself. By reading this article, you can go ahead and mark this step off your list. Other ways to protect yourself include checking your bank statements often, checking your credit report at least once a year, and knowing what to do if your identity is stolen.

Also, be sure you shred personal documents, never carry around your Social Security card, never give personal information over the phone and be cautious when online and steer clear of suspicious links.

If you are a victim of identity theft, the FTC advises you to immediately file a police report, check your credit reports, notify creditors and dispute any unauthorized charges. The faster you react, the less time the thief has to cause more damage.

For consumer information, reports on businesses or charities, to schedule a guest speaker or to file a complaint on a company, go to www.centraltx.bbb.org or call (254) 699-0694.

Safely discard documents

If you have personal documents that you would like to safely discard, the BBB will be holding Shred Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 29 at the 1st National Bank Texas Trimmier Banking Center, 2201 Trimmier Road.

Bring up to five boxes or bags of personal documents and everything will be shred on-site for free. For more information, go to www.centraltx.bbb.org/shred or call (254) 699-0694.

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