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Officials provide tips on protecting yourself from ID theft

In these challenging economic times, consumers become more vulnerable to all kinds of fraud including identity theft.

Last year alone, the Federal Trade Commission reported more than nine million Americans were victims of identity theft. This is a 22 percent increase from the prior year and sharply reverses a four-year trend decrease.

Experts indicate that number may increase more this year. In addition, data breaches increased by 34 percent, making even more consumers vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

The Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection has a few tips to help protect you from identity theft and fraud.

• A credit report is a great indicator of fraud, and monitoring it regularly can reduce the risk of identity theft and fraud. Each year, you can receive a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Request your credit report and review it for fraudulent activity every four months. Get your report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. If there are entries on your credit report that don't make sense to you, you might be a victim of identity theft.

• If you don't do your own tax return, try to make certain that the preparer you choose is reputable. Your return contains a lot of information that an identity thief would love to have. Ask your preparer what type of security it uses to protect your information and whether the preparer shares or sells your information with others. A new law requires a preparer who does sell or share your information to get your written consent to do so. If you prepare and file your own returns online, make sure you use a safe computer, one with virus and firewall protection.

• Monitor your financial accounts regularly. You may want to arrange to receive your banking and credit card activity online. This will enable you to monitor your accounts more frequently and detect any suspicious activity sooner.

• If you're looking for a job, put as little personal information on resumes as possible, especially when submitting them online. While some personal information like name and address may be required, do not provide your social security number. Doing this makes them more susceptible to ID theft.

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