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State attorney general opens 15-city identity theft prevention tour in Yakima Valley

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Attorney General Rob McKenna talks to consumers about his office's concerns regarding identity theft and meth use.

YAKIMA - During the first forum of a 15-city tour, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna and Chuck Harwood of the Federal Trade Commission gave a presentation at Yakima Valley Community College last night (Thursday) to help citizens learn more about deterring, detecting and defending themselves against identity theft.

Rebecca Sears of McKenna's office said Washington state is ranked among the top 10 states in the U.S. for identity theft crimes.

McKenna furthered the statistics by stating that the reason the identity theft tour began in Yakima is not only is it a great community that he loves, Yakima is ranked 43rd on a per capita basis in the U.S. for identity theft crimes and first in the state of Washington.

McKenna also indicated most identity theft is tied to methanphetamine use. He stated that meth use and identity theft are the two top priorities of his office.

"The cost of identity theft is approximately $50 billion per year," stated McKenna.

He differentiated identity fraud and identity theft in stating that identity fraud is when a person forges a check and/or uses credit card or debit card information without authorization from the individual who is named on the accounts.

"Identity theft is when a person uses your social security number, name and other personal information to open new lines of credit," said McKenna.

He used two examples of people who have been victims of identity theft and the repercussions of the thieves' actions.

One case involved a community college student whose information was stolen by an employee of her college. The victim found out about the identity theft because of a car purchase she had not made. After researching the thief's activity, it was discovered a total of 35 credit cards had been opened in the victim's name.

In another case, a purse had been stolen and though the victim reported it and took necessary precautions, she was arrested six months after being victimized due to the fact that the thief had impersonated her in another crime. The thief had an outstanding warrant and it took several days for the victim to be cleared from custody.

According to McKenna, two-thirds of all identity theft cases originate from the loss of information because the victims lost control of said information by sharing the information with others or having had it stolen.

He added that 53 percent of the victims of identity theft know the thief.

McKenna also noted that though the public is primarily concerned about senior citizens becoming identity theft victims, younger people are more at-risk because of their lack of awareness regarding credit.

"It has to be a community effort to combat both meth use and identity theft," McKenna stated.

Harwood said many thieves steal identities by dumpster diving, skimming, hacking, corruption in the place of employment, mail theft, scams and "shoulder surfing."

Some steps for deterrence included being aware of the methods identity thieves use. "Carry minimal information in your purse or wallet," said Harwood.

He also advised paying attention to card access devices and not to carry your social security number with you.

In mailbox theft cases, Harwood said to protect mail with a secured mailbox and to pick up mail promptly.

"Shred all personal information and call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to keep from receiving credit card offers," Harwood stated.

He said to keep hackers away from personal information by keeping computer operating systems current and using firewall software and antivirus programs.

Harwood advises consumers not to give personal information to anyone on the telephone or online unless the contact was initiated. "There is currently antiphishing software available, also," he said. Using a spam filter is another suggestion to deter phishing.

Using strong passwords consisting of a series of letters and numbers is strongly advised by Harwood for computer usage.

He said to ask about security procedures when giving out personal information if the information is necessary and minimum use of social security numbers is a measure of deterrence. "Some companies or institutions use old forms and you don't always have to give them your social security number," explained Harwood.

Sears said there is often a period of time that lapses before a victim discovers identity theft.

She said annual reviews of credit reports are a measure to keep vigilant.

The website she advised is www.annualcreditreport.com.

Sears advises consumers to also pay attention to billing cycles and do their research if a bill doesn't arrive when it is expected.

"Be alert to warning signs such as the bills don't arrive as expected, an unexpected credit card statement arrives or you receive a denial of credit for no apparent reason," she said.

Another warning sign she noted would be calls or letters about purchases the consumer didn't make.

She said to defend one's self requires four steps. "Call the credit reporting agencies, contact the credit card's fraud department and file a complaint with the FTC," Sears advised.

She said a police report is also advised.

More information about steps to deter, detect and defend one's self against identity theft can be found at www.guarditwashington.com.

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