Signs evidence of times

Published 11:28 pm Monday, January 5, 2009

By Staff
With rising unemployment rates, crumbling credit markets, and giant companies failing, it is no secret that our economy is in uncharted territory.
Sadly, as the old adage goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Crimes like petty theft and vandalism are on the rise, and Christmas trees were not safe this holiday season; police across the country had reports of Christmas trees being swiped right off the commercial lots.
Last month's revelation of Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion fraud scheme, in which he swindled Steven Spielberg and Mort Zucker-man, shows that we can be exploited, and we need to be on heightened alert.
Unfortunately, identity theft - in which thieves use your personal information to open credit cards in your name, apply for utilities in your name, borrow money in your name, or even make major purchases in your name - is seemingly becoming the crime du jour.
When a person's identity is stolen, their reputation can be destroyed, their sense of security shattered, and their life savings completely wiped out.
While nothing can guarantee that you will never become a victim of identity theft, there are certainly ways to minimize both your risk and the damage that can be done if someone uses your personal information. The best advice is to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to access your personal information.
Many thieves obtain this information by going through trash, so always shred mail and other documents you are discarding.
Without question, the Internet has made our daily lives much easier. Who would have thought just 15 years ago we would be able to pay our bills, do our grocery shopping, and buy movie tickets all with the click of a mouse and all without leaving home? Unfortunately, what often makes our lives easier also opens doors for criminals.
Place passwords on your online credit card, bank, and phone accounts and avoid using easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, or last four digits of your Social Security number as your password.
Do not give out personal information unless it is to a trusted source or you are the one who has initiated the contact. All too often, identity thieves pose as bank representatives, Internet service providers, or government agencies in order to get people to disclose identifying information.
To determine whether a Web site is secure is look at the beginning of the Web address in the browser's address bar - it should say “https://” not “http://.”
You can contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies (Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-800-397-3742, TransUnion 1-800-680-7289).
Jo Bonner is a member
of the U.S. House of