THE CONCERN: When thieves steal your purse or wallet, they aren't just after your cash and credit cards anymore. Now they are looking for your personal information also! And do you know how often we give this information out in a day without even thinking about it? When this sensitive data falls into the wrong hands, it may be used to steal your identity.

WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT? Identity (ID) theft is a crime where a thief uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number or some other piece of your personal information to commit fraud.

The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank accounts or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name.

Unfortunately, most people do not know that they have been victims of identity theft until they experience a financial consequence, such as mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans or extra charges appearing on credit card bills.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO AVOID ID THEFT: Shred personal information. Receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards need to be destroyed responsibly to prevent "dumpster divers" from getting your personal information.

Secure your social security number (SSN). Don't carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.

Don't respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birth date, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.

Keep your computer and smartphone safe. Install firewalls and virus-detection software on all devices. Also, create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases

Watch for "shoulder surfers." Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs.

Order your credit report once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Review your report to be certain it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia Better Business Bureau offers tips and advice for consumers to avoid fraudulent practices. Visit bbb.org/canton or call 330-454-9401 to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, report a scam with Scam Tracker, read tips, follow us on social media, and more.

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