A few minutes may save you from identity theft

There's still time to shop for holiday gifts, but there's also time to have your identity stolen. Take the time now to think about the potential for being affected by this crime and do something about what some have called the fastest growing crime in America.

Identity theft takes varying forms. It could be computer hackers taking advantage of insecure online shopping systems or scammers who send you those phishing e-mails trying to make you think you won the lottery. There are also those criminals who work through the companies they work for, taking long lists of customers names or piecemealing the information until they have enough to create some havoc.

Or there's a case like this: Just last month, one San Diego neighborhood was the victim of a man who stole mail from curbside mailboxes in front of homes. He'd take the mail, drive around and take some more from another home. When he was arrested - after an alert neighbor spotted him and called police - he had more than 400 pieces of mail in his car.

Police said he had been compiling a database, taking tidbits from information of various pieces of mail - here a Social Security number, there a credit card number.

He could have done serious damage to a lot of people's credit and to their economic wellbeing.

San Diego's Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has been a pioneer in protecting people from identity theft and offering tips if you're victimized. They offer a plethora of information on their Web site at http://www.privacyrights.org , ranging from what to do if you are a victim to how to avoid becoming one.

Take their Identity Theft IQ Test and see how you rate. Then take a look at what you should do if you suspect you're a victim.

The District Attorney's office also has extensive information about identity theft at

http://www.sdcda.org/protecting/identity.php

as does the Identity Theft Resource Center at

www.idtheftcenter.org

.

Take a few minutes during the next few days to learn more about protecting yourself and save yourself a world of trouble.

   
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