Identity theft is no laughing matter

Farm Forum

The movie “Identity Thief” might have been humorous but when it occurs in real life, it is no laughing matter. It costs American families billions of dollars and is the No. 1 complaint in the U.S. This movie created a teachable moment to help people understand the consequences of identity theft. Becoming a victim of fraud by having your identity misused can wipe out years of savings and assets and threaten your future security. The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft has been the top consumer complaint for the past 12 years in a row, and is on the rise.

How it happens

Identity theft occurs when someone steals information and uses it without permission. It can devastate household finances, credit history and reputation – as well as take time, money and patience to resolve. Identity thieves may gain access to your private information by:

• Claiming to be a representative of your financial institution.

• Sifting through your trash for discarded papers.

• Stealing newly issued items such as credit cards, checks, utility bills, insurance statements and benefits documents from your unsecured mailbox.

• Looking over your shoulder at the ATM to capture your personal identification number (PIN).

Unfortunately there is no definite way to ensure you will not become a victim of identity theft. Yet, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances that your information will be stolen and used by a thief.

Pay close attention to your credit report and regularly check for inaccuracies. You are entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can order a detailed summary from each agency at You should also regularly check your children’s credit reports, as identity theft among children is on the rise. You can initiate a fraud alert on your credit report, making it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit.

Never give out your Social Security number, bank account information or other private data to unknown organizations or people. Most people who fall victim to identity theft give out their personal information to fraudsters who appear to be representing a legitimate business. Remember, even a financial institution that you work with will not contact you asking for this information.

Additional measures of protection include:

• Using a different PIN for each personal account, and change them frequently.

• Be aware of phishing tactics, where an email looks like it is from a real financial institution or store but is meant to trick you into supplying personal data. Instead of clicking links in the email, contact the business by phone or in person.

• Install firewalls and anti-spyware on your computer to prevent viruses or downloads designed to steal your personal information.

• Leave your Social Security card, bank account numbers, passwords and PINs at home instead of storing them in your wallet.

• Shred papers that have account numbers or other personal detail on them.

• Stop junk mail and credit card offers from being delivered to your home by calling 888-5OPT-OUT, or online at

Everyone should take the time to understand how identity theft happens and take the steps necessary to protect themselves. This is an essential part of personal finance. Learn more about how to protect your personal information and prevent identity theft by visiting

Reach Karen Slunecka at 605-626-2870 or