In the last two years, the U.S. Justice Department reports that around 11.7 million people have had their identities stolen at a cost of $17.3 billion dollars to consumers.  The Better Business Bureau of Acadiana, as part of National Consumer Protection Week, wants to provide citizens with some tips on how to avoid being a victim of identity theft.

You can have your personal information stolen in a variety of ways, and if that happens the BBB suggests that you do several things:

  • Financial accounts: Close accounts, like credit cards and bank accounts, immediately. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
  • Social Security number: Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. An alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name. See consumer reporting company contact information. Please call TransUnion Fraud Alert Assistance at (800) 680-7289.
  • Driver's license/other government issued identification: Contact the agency that issued the license or other identification document. Follow its procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement. Ask the agency to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document from them in your name.

The unauthorized use of your personal information to open an account, the theft of your credits cars or other personal information can be devastating to your life and your pocket book.  If you think you have been a victim of this type of crime you should make a police report and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Better Business Bureau of Acadiana has some tips on how not to become a victim or fraud or identity theft:

  • Order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months. To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free 877-322-8228.
  • Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves are clever, and have posed as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
  • Treat your mail and trash carefully. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
  • Don't carry your Social Security number card; leave it in a secure place. Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you'll actually need when you go out.

The Justice Department warns that 3% of identity theft cases result in victims experiencing problems related to the theft more than 6 months after discovering it.