Threat of identity theft is a clear and present danger

OSAGE | Threats of identity theft will always be with us, said Deputy Sheriff Jeff Huftalin last week.

However, there are ways to reduce risks to such thefts.

Cases can deal with everything from someone using your debit card and pin number, to going through your trash to gain information about you, such as bank account and Social Security numbers.

“You just have to be very careful,” said Huftalin, who spoke to citizens during a presentation at the ISU Extension office.

Huftalin – who has been the victim of identity theft himself – said there are ways to recognize thefts early. Pay attention to bank and medical statements, to see if there are charges you cannot explain. Another signal might be regular bills that do not show up in your mailbox – indicating someone might be stealing your mail – or you suddenly start getting calls from bill collectors for debts you did not incur.

“People will try to trick you into giving them information” that can eventually result in a theft. The scam of someone calling to say a relative was in jail and needed bond money was a common trick several years ago, to entice a concerned relative to send money to someone posing as the relative.

Reducing risk can be relatively simple. Just locking your home and car doors will prevent many thefts of purses and wallets. Do not carry your Social Security card with you and keep it in a safe place. Shred important papers that could have valuable information in it, he urged.

Huftalin also said to be cautious of giving out information about yourself on the telephone, or on social networking sites. Be aware of computer viruses and keep your passwords in a safe place, away from your computer and not on your computer. Encrypting data on your computer is a good idea, too, he said.

If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, getting a credit report is among the first things you should do, he said.

“If you leave here today with nothing else, it’s that you get a free credit report,” he said.

Everyone is entitled to one free report a year from the credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax or TransUnion, which will provide information about account activity. You should then ask one of the three to place a fraud alert on your accounts, and to alert the other two to do the same.

Then, he said, it was important to close current credit card accounts to invalidate the information stolen, and to call the police department, so there is a record of your complaint. You should also call the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint as well.

He also cautioned everyone attending that if you have a cell phone – especially a smartphone – extra care also needs to be taken to keep it safe, too.

“Our hand-held phones today are like mini-computers, filled with information,” he said.

For more information on identity theft, go to the FTC web site, at .

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