Identity theft: Don’t let it happen to you

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Do you know who you are? Many spend years and decades building their credit, identities and lives, but if identity thieves get a hold of their personal information, they could potentially take that away.

As identity theft becomes more common, it is important for everyone to be aware of how they use their personal information.

"(Identity theft) is the personal privacy issue of the computer age," said Capt. Benjamin Martin, 48th Fighter Wing legal office community and area project officer. "A business transaction when our grandparents were our ages was face to face. For our generation we can conduct a whole life of buying, selling, learning, and watching without ever leaving our homes, or interacting with a soul. That said, (identity theft) is going to keep happening, and if it isn't you, it might be your friends or family."

According to www.ftc.gov there are dozens of ways identity thieves can steal personal information such as: 

· Opening new credit card accounts with stolen information. When they use the cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on someone else's credit report.
· Creating counterfeit checks using a stolen name or account number.
· Opening a bank account using stolen information and writing bad checks.
· Cloning a stolen ATM or debit card and making electronic withdrawals, draining other's accounts.
· Getting a driver's license or official ID card issued in someone else's name but with their picture.
· Using stolen names and Social Security numbers to get government benefits.
· Filing a fraudulent tax return using stolen information.

"The best way to avoid identity theft is to use common sense," said Captain Martin. "Watch out what information you're providing about yourself when you're online shopping or using the internet. Watch out for people asking for private information that you're not quite sure why they'd need it."

Identity theft can cause major issues, but there are a few ways to help Liberty members protect themselves. 

· Pay attention to each bill
· Go online and monitor credit and debit accounts on a regular basis
· Shred all mail and paper with personal information; don't just throw in the garbage
· Keep credit and debit card pin numbers random
· Order a copy of your credit report to determine if your credit rating has been affected

"The possibilities are endless; we can conduct our entire lives through email, internet, and phone," said Captain Martin. "It's very easy for someone to make themselves "you" when no one has ever interacted with the real you."

For more information on identity theft, visit www.ftc.gov or call the legal office at 226-3553.