Stealing your identity

Stefanie Buhrman

Someone has access to your money, and that person can charge all of his or her purchases to your personal account. It’s called identity theft.

Axton Betz, graduate student in family and consumer sciences education and studies, knows this feeling all too well.

“In 1993, when I was 11, my parents’ identity was stolen,” Betz said. “I didn’t find out until I was 19 and I tried to pay for utilities at my apartment. I thought it was because I didn’t have a credit rating, so I got my credit report.”

When Betz received her credit report, she found herself shocked to find out that she had more than just a credit rating.

“It was 10 pages long,” Betz said. “I looked at my report and there were credit cards turned in for collection that I never had. It’s still not completely fixed. Collection agencies were trying to collect on debts that were over seven years old, which is against the law in Iowa. I filed a complaint and I still get calls about it.”

Betz still has to deal with the fallout of her information being stolen, but it didn’t stop it from happening again.

“The second time was last summer,” Betz said. “I came home from vacation. I opened my mailbox and there was a letter. I almost didn’t open it. I thought it was junk. It was from Certegy, a check verification business that a lot of retailers use.”

Much to her dismay, it turns out that a company Betz did business with had stolen bank account information from over 8.5 million people. She then took immediate action.

“I spent the next week getting a new bank account and debit cards,” Betz said. “It was very inconvenient.”

After her experiences with identity theft, Betz tries to do everything in her power to stop anyone from trying to steal her information.

“I shred every pre-approved offer I get. I shred all my statements. I use a cross-cutting shredder, so it cuts it both ways and not just into long strips,” she said. “I don’t give out personal information [and] I am very wary when I give it out. I monitor my credit report [and] watch my mail for collection letters as they come.”

The city of Ames has its own posted suggestions on its Web site.

The advice includes not carrying around unnecessary identification, such as a Social Security card, using passwords that do not resemble a birthday, mother’s maiden name, or the last 4 digits of the social security number and continually checking billing and account statements.

Victims of identity theft should report it to law enforcement, put a fraud alert on all credit reports and contact a credit bureau.