The Hilliard Division of Police is looking to arm the public with information to help guard against identity theft.

The Hilliard Division of Police is looking to arm the public with information to help guard against identity theft.

"Identity theft is a serious crime," officer Suzanne Muraco said. She said identity thieves steal someone's personal information and use it without that person's knowledge to commit fraud and other crimes.

"Identity theft can cost you time and money," she said. "It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name."

Muraco said victims of identity theft should file a report with police. She said victims also should contact all of their creditors that are involved and make them aware of the time when the theft likely occurred. She said creditors might need a copy of the police report.

She also said all victims should report the fraud to the three major credit bureaus and request that they flag the account in question so other creditors can't grant credit without authorization from the victim.

"Make sure to check all three reporting agencies because each may have different information from the others," she said.

Contact information for those offices is as follows:

Equifax: P.O. Box 674402 Houston, 77267-4402; or call 1-800-525-6285

Experian: P.O. Box 2104 Allen, Texas, 75013; or call 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion: P.O. Box 390 Springfield, Pa., 19064-0390; or call 1-800-680-7289

Muraco offered numerous tips to help residents prevent identity theft:

Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.

Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.

Don't give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you know who the recipient.

Never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails; instead, type in a Web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer. Keep them up to date.

Don't use an obvious password, like your birth date, your mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done at your house.

Muraco said people should inspect their credit reports, which contain information on what accounts they have and their bill-paying history. The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union -- to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it, she said.

She also said people need to inspect their financial statements.

"Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make," she said.

Muraco said identity thieves get their hands on other people's information through several means:

Dumpster diving: They rummage through trash, looking for bills or other papers with personal information on it.

Skimming: They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing a card.

Phishing: They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get people to reveal their personal information.

Change of address: They divert billing statements to another location by completing a "change-of-address" form.

"Old-fashioned" stealing: They steal wallets and purses; mail, including credit card statements; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers or bribe employees who have access.

Sgt. Mike Redmond said records from 1994 show fraud complaints increased dramatically over a period before decreasing.

In 1994, seven reported fraud complaints; in 1995, four; 1996, nine; 1997, 14; 1998, 15; 1999, 29; 2000, 26; 2001, 58; 2002, 68; 2003, 65; 2004, 85; 2005, 132; 2006, 114; 2007, 109.

Thus far in 2008, there have been 28 reported fraud complaints.

"It may have lowered because of more identity theft information that came out," Muraco said.

calexis@thisweeknews.com