Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

Ogle County State's Attorney Mike Rock

OGLE COUNTY (WIFR) -- Below is a column from Mike Rock, the Ogle County State's Attorney concerning identity theft and precautionary actions to take to reduce the risk of having your identity stolen.

Nowadays, when your purse or wallet gets stolen, the cash inside may not be the only thing a thief wants to steal -- the most valuable items in your wallet are your social security number, ATM card, credit cards, bank checks and any other items with your personal information. And, thieves are finding other ways of getting your information since during the course of your busy day, you share personal and financial information when making transactions in person, over the telephone and online to buy goods and services.

According to the F.B.I, identify theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime, something that was really brought home to many of us earlier this spring when Schnucks urged customers who used credit or debit cards at one of its grocery stores between December 2012 and March 2013 to check with their banks to make sure their identities were secure.

The warning came after the Maryland Heights-Mo.-based grocery store chain reported that approximately 2.4 million customers’ data from 79 of its stores, including those in Illinois, may have had their accounts compromised. Of those, thieves stole anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars from unsuspecting customers.

Although it is impossible to guarantee that identity theft will never happen, you can help reduce to your chances of becoming a victim and there are some actions to take if it does occur.

• Use a paper shredder to destroy financial documents or other documents with personal information
• Don't carry your social security card with you or write it on a check. Place the card in a safe place, only give it out when absolutely necessary and ask to use another identifier for accounts
• Change your passwords every 60 days and make them "strong" (more difficult to "crack") by using a combination of uppercase, lower case, numbers and symbols. Avoid using your birthdate, mother's maiden name, last four digits of your social security number or other obvious identifying words or numbers
• Order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus each year: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. Visit or call toll-free 877-322-8228. It contains information about what credit accounts have been opened in your name, as well as where you live and work, how you pay your bills, if you've been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. You are entitled to one free report each year from each of the three major bureaus
• Watch your billing cycles closely. If a bill is late, check with your creditors to see why it has not arrived; and watch for any unauthorized charges or unexpected account statements
• Have your mail sent to a post office box or get a locking mailbox. Also take outgoing mail to the post office
• Only use a secure connection on the internet when sending credit card numbers or other personal information. The cite should begin with "https" with "s" meaning "secure"
• Use virus protection and a firewall program to prevent your computer from being accessed by others, and keep them up to date.
• Don't download files or click on links from unknown sources; instead type in a web address you know. Also, unplug your Internet when you're not using it
• 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
• Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers and receive fewer solicitations at home by calling 888-567-8688 or visiting

If you think you have been a victim of identity theft, contact law enforcement to make a report. The Ogle County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecutes those that have been charged with identity theft. The Ogle County SA’s Office Victim/Witness Assistant can also provide a referral to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which provides a hotline to assist you through the process of reclaiming your credit. You can contact the Ogle County State’s Attorneys Office at (815)732-1170.