Batesville bank offers advice to avoid identity theft - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Batesville bank offers advice to avoid identity theft

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – All the personal and financial information that people share these days have become currency for criminals.

Anyone can fall victim to identity theft, so one local bank is teaching people how to make themselves less of a target.

First Community Bank in Batesville invited its customers Thursday to a free seminar about identity theft, which counts Sheri Wagner and her family as victims.

A local Wal-Mart clerk stole the identity of Wagner's daughter several years ago after she wrote a few checks at the store.

"We had to go through a lot, and it ruined my daughter's credit," Wagner said. "It's just an ordeal for us, and I really at that time didn't know what to do."

She sought answers Thursday afternoon along with some of her neighbors.

They all came to the bank to listen to Stephen Svetz, an identity theft investigator and instructor with the Arkansas Attorney General's Office.

Svetz led the seminar about a crime that also claimed him as a victim.

"Identity theft is the number one reported crime for the last 10 years in a row," Svetz said, "so there are things that you need to do to protect yourself."

He began his presentation Thursday saying people should start by clearing out their purse or wallet.

"Get rid of identifying information, Social Security numbers," he said. "Don't take Medicare cards in your pocket unless you're going to the doctor or traveling."

He says that people should keep anything listing their Social Security number in a safe, secure place because he classifies the card, at least, to be the single most dangerous piece of paper on the planet.

"Basically if someone has possession of that, it unlocks your credit file," Svetz said. "They can go out with that Social Security number and that other information and get credit in your name and other things and ruin your day, ruin your life."

Checks are the second most dangerous pieces of paper, according to Svetz.

"Any time that you have the ability to use a credit card, I would suggest that you use those instruments to pay for something," he added, "rather than write a check."

He also suggests paying bills online, using secure Web sites that contain "https" in the address bar.

People should consider buying a shredder too so that they can dispose of old financial documents or other paper work properly.

Svetz says identity thieves are more apt to go dumpster diving these days to find people's information.

These helpful hints among others are ones that Wagner has already taken to heart.

"There were things, precautions that I do take," she said, "but there were definitely precautions that I need to take."

Amber Bass, the vice president of business and electronic solutions at First Community Bank, says more of these seminars are planned for the future.

The Attorney General's Office also encourages people to follow this link to learn more about protecting themselves from identity theft and other consumer issues.

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