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I.D. theft discussed at town hall meeting

Albany Police Chief John Proctor fields questions from the audience at a town hall meeting conducted Dec. 8, 2012, at the Law Enforcement Center. The meeting focused on avoiding I.D. theft and financial fraud. (Dec. 8, 2012)

Albany Police Chief John Proctor fields questions from the audience at a town hall meeting conducted Dec. 8, 2012, at the Law Enforcement Center. The meeting focused on avoiding I.D. theft and financial fraud. (Dec. 8, 2012)

ALBANY, Ga. — Identity theft ranks high on the list of things that can devastate a family. That led some to wonder why people didn't pack the Law Enforcement Center on Saturday.

"This room should be full," resident Robert Montgomery said. "You guys are on top of things, you do a good job. More people should take advantage of this."

Montgomery was talking about Albany City Commissioner Ivey Hall's Town Hall and community chat, which started at 10 a.m. and was dedicated to identity theft prevention. Led by police Chief John Proctor and his staff, the information came from law enforcement experience, booklets, a video and a PowerPoint display.

"This room should be full," Proctor said to the 15 people in the audience. "But just like in a church, if you touch just one, it is good."

When a dishonest person gets a hold of an honest person's purse or wallet, financial havoc can be wreaked on that honest person's life.

Calling on his in-house expert, Proctor gave Inspector Catoa Baldwin the floor. He showcased the ways identity theft can take place, including one not often thought about by victims.

Baldwin said that "dumpster diving" — going through trash bins, the cans in front of homes and even public dumps — can give an identity thief a host of information.

Even the easily thrown away "junk mail" contains information that an identity thief can begin with, build on and eventually empty a credit card with.

In an example from Albany, Baldwin said that two Tifton women got information from an Atlanta Woman's trash, used it at an Albany car dealership and almost got a car. They were caught because the Atlanta woman had a fraud alert on her accounts.

Advice from Baldwin and every official at the meeting — get a fraud alert from your financial institutions.

Other ways thieves can access personal information, Baldwin said, were skimming, phishing, hacking into a computer and old-fashioned stealing a wallet or purse.

Skimming is a method where a thief puts a card reader on top of the real card reader at a gas pump or an ATM. Advice: Check the card reader to make sure a fake one is not on top of it.

Phishing is tricking a victim by email to divulge personal information. If a phone call is used, it is called pretexting. Advice: A financial institution will never send an email asking for personal information and will never call. Don't answer the email and hang up.

The advice to avoid hacking begins with the use of anti-virus and spyware software and adds setting up a firewall. Advice also is available from a Federal Trade Commission booklet, "Taking Charge: What To Do if Your Identity Is Stolen."

There are a limited number of booklets available at the Law Enforcement Center, 201 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. Other booklets on identity theft and counterfeit money are also available.