In addition to quick action like Mary took, South Carolinians have additional tools to help deter fraudsters.
One is a law enacted with the support of AARP South Carolina that allows state residents to put a security freeze on their credit file — at no cost — so no one can look at the file without the consumer's consent.
That means a scammer trying to open a checking account or credit card in someone's name won't be able to because the creditor can't access the consumer's credit file. A consumer who wants to apply for credit can unlock the account using a personal identification number.
To apply for a freeze, consumers can call, go online or send a written request to each of the three major credit bureaus. South Carolina is one of the only states with legislation to allow all consumers to place or lift a freeze free of charge.
"South Carolina's best kept secret is that the state has one of the strongest identity theft laws in the country," said AARP South Carolina spokesman Patrick Cobb. "People should take advantage of it."
The security freeze is a good tool for anyone who has been a victim of fraud or ID theft or who is concerned about becoming a victim. It also serves as extra security for someone who has no intention of applying for credit in the near future, said state Consumer Affairs Administrator Carri Grube Lybarker.
Guard your privacy
Lybarker recommended other steps for consumer protection:
Never carry your Social Security card and don't write the number on checks. If someone requests the number, always ask why they need it and how it will be used.
Shred old documents, including credit card offers, and store personal documents in a secure place at home.
Don't share personal information with family or friends. Keep track of financial statements, check credit reports annually and update computer firewalls and antivirus protections.
Mary has taken extra precautions since her ID was stolen. She's vigilant about checking her bank statement and knows exactly when it will arrive. She doesn't give out personal information and now uses a locking mailbox.
"Don't let it happen in the first place," she advised. "Check every statement and receipt from A to Z."
Amy Geier Edgar is a writer living in Racine, Wis.
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