’Tis the season to protect your I.D.

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

This time of year, with the holidays approaching, there always seems to be an increase in theft-related crimes, the fastest growing type of which is identity theft. Victims of this crime can spend several years and substantial money to clean up their credit report and clear their name. So how does identity theft happen? Thieves use a variety of ways to gain access to your personal information. They may steal your purse or wallet, steal your mail, or even rummage through your trash can or the local landfill to collect your discarded documents. I believe prevention is the best method to remaining identity-theft free.

There are several precautions you should take:

— Carefully monitor the statements and balances of all your financial accounts.

— Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals on your financial accounts.

— Make sure all of your financial accounts have different passwords.

— Limit the number of credit cards or other identifying information you carry.

— Use the most current virus protection software on your personal computer.

— Never open files on your PC from strangers or companies you do not know.

— When disposing of your computer, remember to use a “wipe” software program to overwrite the entire hard drive.

— Always shred any identifying information such as pre-approved credit offers, charge receipts, checks, and bank statements. Make sure to use a cross shredder if possible.

If you want to shred your documents but don’t have a shredder, you can bring your documents to the Albany Civic Center on November 19th from 8:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. During that time, the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office and ShredEX are sponsoring a Shred-a-thon. Your documents will be shredded at no cost and you can hear presentations by our Investigative Division on how to beat fraud and protect your identity.

Even after taking all of these precautions, you could still fall victim. If this happens to you, you should:

(1) Place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports, and add a “victim’s statement” to your file requesting that creditors contact you before opening new accounts in your name;

(2) Close the accounts that you know have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call and speak to someone in the security or fraud department. Follow up in writing sent by certified mail, return receipt requested;

(3) File a miscellaneous incident report with the Sheriff’s Office or local police where the identity theft occurred, and retain a copy of the police report to help you deal with the creditors who may need proof of the crime;

(4) File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-438-4338.

As always, if you have questions about identity theft or the upcoming Shred-a-thon, feel free to call my office at 431-2166.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sheriff Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office for more than 28 years and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.