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ID theft defense necessary in todays world

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In the course of one day many people write checks at the grocery store, charge tickets to ball games, rent cars and call home on cell phones. Chances are they don't give these everyday transactions a second thought. But someone else may be looking over their shoulder. 

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. An identity thief takes some piece of personal information: bank account number, social security number, address or phone number, and uses it without that person's knowledge to commit fraud or theft. An all-too-common example is when a thief uses personal information to open a credit card account in someone else's name. 

While identity theft cannot be prevented entirely, there are simple steps that will minimize the risk. By managing personal information wisely and being educated on the issue, a person can protect themselves by following a few simple rules. 

Before revealing personally identifying information, people should find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. They should ask if there is a choice about the use of personal information. For example, can this information be kept confidential? 

People need to pay attention to billing cycles and follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over a credit card account and changed the billing address to cover his tracks. 

Passwords should be placed on credit cards, bank and phone accounts. Using easily available information like a parent's last name, birth date, the last four digits of Social Security or phone numbers or a series of consecutive numbers should be avoided. 
People need to avoid giving out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless the contact was personally initiated or that contact is peronally known. Social Security numbers should be kept in a secure place and should be given out only when absolutely necessary.
Those who think they may be a victim of identity theft should take action immediately. In addition to cancelling stolen checks and credit cards, victims need to file a police report and dispute any accounts opened under the stolen identity. 

Just as Vandneberg members have been trained to prevent security breaches here, they shouldn't forget to safeguard personal information. Be cautious and keep personal information in a safe place. For more information on identity theft, visit the base legal office during walk-in legal sssistance hours Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 4 p.m or call 606-6200.