Batesville bank offers advice to avoid identity theft

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

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

First Community Bank in Batesville invited its customersThursday to a free seminar about identity theft, which counts Sheri Wagner andher family as victims.

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

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

She sought answers Thursday afternoon along with some of herneighbors.

They all came to the bank to listen to Stephen Svetz, anidentity theft investigator and instructor with the Arkansas Attorney General'sOffice.

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

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

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

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

He says that people should keep anything listing theirSocial 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 unlocksyour credit file," Svetz said. "They can go out with that Social Securitynumber and that other information and get credit in your name and other thingsand 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, Iwould suggest that you use those instruments to pay for something," he added, "ratherthan write a check."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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