What would you do if your bank called and told you someone was opening up new accounts in your name?
After the initial shock, you'd wonder how someone could have accessed your private information. NewsChannel5 consumer reporter John Matarese
goes to a real identity thief to find out how to avoid it so you "don't waste your money."
It's the fastest growing crime: ID theft, where someone steals your name, social security number or credit card numbers.
How can you avoid it? Matarese asked someone who's done it, someone who made a living stealing identities.
"Once we got a credit card, we would order high-ticket items, digital cameras, camcorders," said Sara, a convicted identity thief.
Sara has opened dozens of credit accounts in other people's names.
Gretchen, who asked Matarese not to use her last name, was never a crime victim until she received a call from her credit card company.
"They asked me whether I'd been to Canada, and had bought $600 worth of things at Wal-Mart," Gretchen said.
Her credit card statement shows big charges at Wal-Mart and Foot Locker in Toronto.
"I was terrified, since I didn't know where the information got out," she said.
John Barr told Matarese an eerily similar tale.
"I was at first terrified someone had access to my accounts," Barr said.
He discovered $3,000 of charges in his name in England.
But Sara said she never needed to steal actual cards. Rather, she hunted numbers. She said she and friends would rummage through outdoor garbage pails, dive through Dumpsters and rummage mailboxes for bills and outgoing checks.
"Putting that red flag up. Thank you for telling me you have money in your mailbox," Sara said.
The two best mailbox finds, she said, were offers for new credit cards and checks containing a name, address, phone and bank account number. With that, she was ready to assume that person's identity.
"We would put their info on the Internet, and it would tell us what credit limit they had," Sara said.
Then she would apply for credit in the victim's name.
How can you escape thieves like Sara?
Matarese went to Jocile Erlich at the Better Business Bureau.
"Don't give out any personal numbers, credit card, whatever, to anyone unless you made the initial contact," Erlich said.
The BBB says never give a personal number to someone who calls or e-mails you. Don't respond to e-mails from your bank, AOL, eBay or others asking you for account numbers: They're scams, Matarese said.
The BBB says to buy a shredder: A diagonal cut model, not a cheap straight-line shredder.
The BBB also advises against putting outgoing checks or bills in your mailbox. Limit the information on your checks to name and town. And purchase a locking mailbox.
You can stop those unwanted credit card offers by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.
The only way to opt out of credit card offers is to give your Social Security number. This is because thats the only way the credit card companies know you from other people in the country with your same name.
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