December 3, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald
LEXINGTON, Ky.

The holiday shopping season is in full force and stores are beginning to overflow with shoppers. In the course of a day they may charge purchases to a credit card, open new credit accounts with several stores, write checks, use a debit card, call home from a cell phone, and complete a host of other transactions. 

Most shoppers don’t give those actions a second thought, but that can be risky since identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. Identity theft claims more than 1,500 new victims every day, with women being more affected than men, said Jeff LaGrew, assistant deputy attorney general for the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

LaGrew, who spoke at a recent Holiday Seminar at the Fayette County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, offered practical information and helpful tips to avoid identity theft. He said identity theft can be more prevalent during the holidays.

“We suspect it’s higher during the holidays,” he said. “People are giving out their names more often, giving out more information to people in the stores or to the people who call on the phone asking them to give to charities. People are just in a better mood and they are more giving at this time of year.”

The best way to prevent identity theft is to keep track of all receipts. LaGrew said a lot of companies have stopped printing the credit card numbers on receipts, but some still do. Keep all receipts and put them in a safe place at home or shred them.

Criminals steal identity by using personal data such as name, social security number, date of birth and financial information. The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity thieves use an array of methods to steal a person’s identity. 

Some of these methods include: stealing wallets or purses containing identification and bank and credit cards; stealing mail such as bank statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks and tax information; rummaging through trash cans for personal data; fraudulently obtaining credit reports by posing as landlord, employer, or someone else who would have a legitimate need for the information; intercepting personal information entered on the Internet; and the list goes on.

LaGrew said it’s important to not dispose of personal information including prescriptions, receipts, bank deposit slips, pay stubs, expired credit cards, insurance policies, and credit card applications without first destroying the material.

One way to have more control over who receives your credit report is to contact the credit bureaus. LaGrew said to ask the companies to put a fraud alert on your account. This will require the bureaus to notify you when they receive an application for a credit report on your account.

LaGrew also said there is an easy way to stop the majority of unsolicited credit card offers by mail, just call 1-888-5 OPT OUT, or 1-888-567-8688.

When someone calls to solicit donations to a charity, make sure they are a real and reputable organization. LaGrew said to never give out personal information to telephone solicitors. Ask for and write down the full name, address and phone number
of the charity. He said to also write down the solicitor’s name and ask them if they are being paid to solicit funds. Ask if the charity is registered with the Office of the Attorney General and ask for the registration number.

“Never give out personal information to someone you don’t know,” he added.

Senior citizens may be more vulnerable to identity theft. 

“They are just more trusting,” LaGrew said. “Most of them grew up in a time when you could make a deal on a handshake, leave your keys in the car and now you can’t do that.”

If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local law enforcement, your creditors if your credit has been compromised, and the Division of Financial Integrity Enforcement, Office of the Attorney General in Frankfort.

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Heald  859-257-4736, ext. 267