Identity Theft Hitting Close to Home

By: Karen Kostko
By: Karen Kostko

In April of 2003, Ben Castner received one phone call that would change the way he looked at his personal life forever.

"My wife calls me one night at work and says there's this detective on the phone wanting to verify your social security number," he says.

The detective was from the Wausau Police Department. He discovered that Ben had become a target of one of the fastest growing crimes, identity theft.

"They were working on a sting, and my name was on the list," Ben says.

Turns out, Ben’s previous employer hired a temp agency to shred payroll documents. Ben's name was in that pile. The person in charge of destroying the information decided to do something else, he decided to steal Ben's identity.

"It's a cause and effect, if he wasn't there, none of this would have happened," he says.

Ben soon realized that it was happening, and as soon as the shock wore off, the legal process began. He testified in court, cancelled his credit cards, switched banks and even had to place a special alert on his driver's license.

Only one in 700 people are actually caught and arrested for this crime. Ben was one of the lucky ones. The man responsible for stealing his identity now spends his time behind bars, but even so, the story doesn't end here.

For months, Ben and his wife have to take several extra steps when they use their credit cards. He says to avoid most of the hassle, they now buy things with cash. His good name is almost cleared up, however one thought continues to haunt him from time to time.

"The scary thing is there were several involved, so you don't know what's been shared and what's been passed out," Ben explains.

While this story is rather frightening, there are ways you can protect yourself. We'll have some Seven On Your Side Tips to keep you from becoming a victim in Part 2 of the Special Report, Identity Theft, Thursday. Extended Web Coverage

ID Theft

  • Identity theft is a crime in which the imposter obtains key pieces of information such as Social Security and driver's license numbers to obtain credit, merchandise and services in the name of the victim.

  • The victim is left with a ruined credit history and the time-consuming and complicated task of regaining financial health.

  • It is a dual crime, committed against an individual whose name and good credit history was ruined and against businesses who lost cash and merchandise.

Prevention Tips

  • Carefully destroy papers you don't need, especially those with sensitive or identifying information. Buy and use a good, cross-cut paper shredder.

  • Guard your Social Security Number. Don't carry your social security card with you. That also includes any cards or badges that may include this number on it. Resist giving it out unless necessary. Don't put SSN on checks.

  • Check all three of your credit reports once a year. This is one of the best ways to find out if someone is using your information without your knowledge. In most cases it will cost about $8 for each report unless you are a victim of financial crime or turned down for a job or credit due to your credit report.

    TransUnion: 800-888-4213 (fraud div.- 800-680-7289)
    Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (fraud div.- 888-397-3742)
    Equifax: 800- 685-1111 (fraud div.- 800-525-6285)

  • Block your name from marketing lists- 888-5OPTOUT. This is cut down on the number of pre-approved credit card offers you receive.

  • Guard your personal information. Carry as little as possible in your wallet. Get credit cards with your picture on them. Be alert to shoulder surfers listening for information. Cancel any credit cards you no longer use. That means contacting the company, not just cutting up the card. Keep confidential information in a locked area.

  • Be suspicious of telephone solicitors. Never give out information unless you have initiated the call. You should never need to give a social security number to a sales clerk.

  • Watch what happens to your credit card when you give it to a clerk. The instances of double skimming are on the rise. Double skimming occurs when the clerk not only charges you for your purchase but also runs your card through a computer scanner. Later this information is downloaded on a counterfeit card and used by imposters.

  • Demand that the businesses you frequent take good care of your information and find out how they protect you from ID theft.

Source: (Identity Theft Resource Center Web site) contributed to this report.

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