5 On Your Side

Protect Your Good Name From Identity Theft

Posted March 27, 2002

— Each year, thousands of North Carolinians become victims of identity theft. The bigger the town you live in, the more likely you are to be a victim.

Charlotte reported the most cases in 2001, followed by Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Fayetteville. However, you do not have to live in a big town to be a victim. In a lot of cases, all you need is a mailbox.

"I'm a student. I wish I could have spent this much money," said Todd Campbell.

A thief took more than Campbell's money; the person took his name, leaving him with a folder full of bills.

"We're looking at wireless bills, we're looking at department store bills," he said. The fake Todd Campbell has expensive taste, too.

"A 1999 Lincoln Navigator. How can they have a nicer car than me?" Campbell asked.

Campbell will not have to pay the bills, but he does have to work out the mess with creditors. He said that he will be more careful about what he leaves in his mailbox and in his trash.

"Things you throw away in the trash can be unbelievably valuable to someone else," said Officer Chris Blue, of the Chapel Hill Police Department.

To demonstrate, Blue checked out what other people throw away. In just 10 seconds he found a gold mine, including preapproved loan and credit card offers and a receipt with a complete account number on it.

To protect yourself, shred any items with personal information items before throwing them away.

A form with a Social Security number is all a thief needs to pretend to be you and go on a spending spree.

They can find the information in the trash or wait for you to raise the red flag on your mailbox.

"We also recommend when they pay their bills, they take the bills to the post office and mail them there rather than leave them out front of the house," Blue said.

Campbell said that he now keeps every piece of personal information under lock and key.

"It will make me more cautious, probably a little less trusting," he said.

So what kind of identity theft should you worry about the most?

According to the ID Theft Clearinghouse, there were 724 cases of fraud reported in North Carolina last year. Unauthorized phone or utility service was next on the list of complaints followed by bank fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission predicts one out of every three Americans will become a victim of identity fraud in his or her lifetime. Last year, the crime accounted for $40 billion in losses nationwide.

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