Sometime in your life, "you are going to become a victim" of identity theft, according to a public affairs specialist for an identity protection company.
It's not if, "it's when," said Paige Pedersen of Lifelock, who spoke to a group of some 65 residents in Sun City Vistoso on a recent weekday. About a third of Pedersen's audience had either been victimized, or knew someone who had been.
"Arizona is #1 in identity theft," according to the Federal Trade Commission, Pedersen said. "Thirty-thousand people complained last year that they were victims." It can take 30 hours, on average, to clear your name in the case of identity theft.
Much of what an individual can do to protect his or her identity is free, she continued. "Some of the tips seem so obvious, so simple, but people aren't doing it," Pedersen said.
Many complaints of ID theft stem from stolen Social Security numbers, particularly in border states, Pedersen said. Contact with the Social Security Administration, www.ssa.gov, can help an individual track work history activity on their number.
Children are "the most vulnerable age for identity theft. As soon as you get a Social Security number, it could be compromised." Lifelock recommends parents request annual credit reports on their children, and annual work history reports on their children's Social Security numbers through www.ssa.gov.
More than a dozen web sites are likely tracking any individual at any time, Pedersen said. Pedersen warns about "mystery shopper scams," and ads with offers too good to be true.
"A big thing is the junk mail," Pedersen said. "Not a lot of people like junk mail." Individuals can "scrub themselves from direct marketing" through www.dmachoice.org, or by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
If someone online asks for a name, and credit card information, be wary, Pedersen said. "You should never give out that information," she said. "Go to the actual website of the business you want."
Fraud alerts are strongly recommended. Free fraud alerts can be placed with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, the credit report companies.
Be mindful at restaurants, where workers use electronic "skimmers" hidden in their clothing to steal ATM or credit card information, Pedersen said.
"We're trying to spread awareness to consumers," she said.
An annual credit report is strongly suggested, through www.annualcreditreport.com, which is free.
Shredding event Saturday at Rural/Metro Magee station
Northwest residents have been invited to shred old documents in an effort to prevent identity theft this Saturday, Dec. 19.
The free shred-a-thon, co-hosted by Rural / Metro Fire Department #76, the Tucson police and fire departments, the Pima County Sheriff's Department and Attorney General Terry Goddard, runs from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the department's 490 W. Magee Rd.
"Consumers must be vigilant protecting themselves from identity theft," said Goddard. "Instead of throwing out old documents, residents should shred them to ensure personal information doesn't fall into the wrong hands."
Old tax bills, tax returns older than seven years, medical records and other documents containing personal identifying information should be shredded.
While shredding old receipts is encouraged, Goddard also noted that consumers should keep receipts from items purchased this holiday season.
For more holiday shopping information, consumers are encouraged to read the attorney general's holiday consumer tips at http://www.azag.gov/consumer/holiday/.
Saturday, Dec. 19, 9 a.m.-noon
Rural/Metro Fire Department #76
490 W. Magee