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Guest Editorial

Protect yourself from identity theft

Recent news reports that indicate personal consumer information may have been stolen from a national company highlight the increasing concern of identity theft.ÊIn 2005 alone, nearly 6,000 Washingtonians were victims of identify theft.ÊOur state ranks seventh in the nation for the number of identity theft cases per capita.

Typically, an identity thief steals your Social Security number, bank or credit card account numbers or other personal information and uses it to obtain a credit card, take out a loan or make purchases in your name.Ê

As complaints of identify theft continue to rise, consumers must remain vigilant in protecting personal information.Ê

The Federal Trade Commission - the nationÕs consumer protection agency that handles identity theft complaints - recommends that Americans follow three basic steps to keeping their identity safe: deter, detect and defend.

Deter:ÊYou should only carry your Social Security card when necessary, and always exhibit caution when asked for personal information whether youÕre applying for a credit card, a video store membership or anything else.ÊYou never know where that information may end up.ÊBe sure to shred any documents with personal information before you discard them and visit www.onguardonline.gov to learn about ways to protect personal information on your computer.

Detect: As bank statements and credit card bills arrive each month - particularly those from the recent holiday shopping season - it is important that they are carefully monitored for any suspicious activity.ÊReviewing credit reports is another important tool in detecting identity theft.ÊIn 2003 Congress passed a law that gives all Americans access to a free credit report each year.ÊTo obtain a free copy of your credit report please visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.

Defend: If you suspect that you have been the victim of identity theft you should act immediately to notify credit reporting agencies, banks and credit card companies.ÊIn addition, a complaint should be filed with the Federal Trade Commission and the crime should be reported to local law enforcement.Ê

To learn more about identity theft visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central WashingtonÕs 4th District.

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