News 12 at 11, September 26, 2007
AIKEN, S.C-- We hear the term all the time, identity theft. But are you making it easy on the criminals?
It's costing businesses 50 billion dollars every year. A cost that is then passed on to us, the consumer. But, there are ways to protect yourself before it happens to you. And, if you think it can't happen to you, think again.
"If you have a name, a phone number a social security number you are at risk." warns Donna DeMichael, Director of Consumer Services and Education for the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs.
And the cases in our area are piling up. On average, Richmond County Fraud Investigators see between 30 to 50 cases of identity theft every month. Columbia County handles 20 to 30 cases every month. Aiken County's numbers are better, only 30 cases all year, or about 4 cases per month. However, that number does not include the city of Aiken.
"It seems to be snowballing." Says 86-year-old Cecil Bischof. So, she is taking action by attending our Identity Theft seminar to learn how to protect herself and her money.
And she's not alone. "I keep hearing about it more and more. It's like you are indefensible." expresses Synita Gardner.
But, Donna DeMichael says that's not so, and she's arming anyone who will listen, with what you need to know; from how it happens to ways to protect yourself.
1. Don't share private information with anyone who you didn't initiate contact with--either over the phone or on the Internet.
2. Keep all of your receipts private, and when you're done, shred them.
3. Shred any preapproved credit card offers you receive.
4. Check your credit report at least once a year. She recommends www.annualcreditreport.com. It's an FTC approved site, and it's free once a year, as mandated by the federal government.
But that's not all you need to watch out for when it comes to thieves wanting to steal your identity.
"It's big business on the Internet." warns DeMichael.
If you pay some or all of your bills online, you need to look for two things. First, look at the website address for "https"--the "s" stands for secure. Also, in the bottom right corner, you should see a padlock symbol. If it's there, it means you are on an encrypted site.
"If you send info through email, anyone can have access to it. So never send financial information over the Internet through email. Do it through an encrypted site." adds DeMichael.
If you would like more information on ways to protect yourself, DeMichael suggests the following websites: