Daily Dupaco

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Protect yourself from identity theft

Identity theft is one of those evolving crimes. As we learn to better guard our information, the criminals fight back with more elaborate schemes.

So, what's your best weapon in the battle against fraud?

"Your brain and instincts," says Dubuque Police Lt. Scott Baxter, a crime prevention officer. "Ask questions, make calls, ask for proof. Take your time, and don't make a rash decision."

From 2004 to 2010, Dubuque police received 225 complaints of identity theft, averaging 32 each year. Nationwide, Iowa ranks as the 47th highest per capita of such complaints.

"Every case is a little bit different, and it depends on the skill level of the criminal and the method they're using that affects our ability to effectively investigate and prosecute these," Baxter says.

Identity theft can occur from the most primitive method of looking over your shoulder at an ATM to the more advanced technology of hacking your computer--and everything in-between.

"The best advice would be to try to maintain a constant state of awareness," Baxter says. "Always be suspicious."

He offers six other tips:

* Use extreme caution when releasing information--especially if you didn't initiate the inquiry.

* Shred or secure documents containing personal or financial information.

* Monitor bank statements, credit card bills and other bills--thoroughly--every time.

* Monitor your credit report history.

* Only make online purchases on verified, secured (https) and trusted websites.

* Check out the Federal Government's OnGuard Online and Microsoft's Safety & Security Center, which can help secure your computer.


By Emily Kittle

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