The Federal Trade Commission recently released its annual report of consumer fraud and identity theft complaints. Once again, Arizona ranked No. 1 for identity theft victims with 147.8 complaints filed per 100,000 population, or 9,113 total complaints. Nevada ranked No. 2 with 120 complaints filed per 100,000, or 2,994 total complaints. Seven Arizona metropolitan markets are in the top 25 for identity theft complaints. Flagstaff came in first with 209.4 complaints filed per 100,000. Prescott, Sierra Vista/Douglas, Lake Havasu City/Kingman, Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, Tucson and Yuma also made the list.
According to the report, credit card fraud (25 percent) was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by phone or utility fraud (16 percent), bank fraud (16 percent) and employment fraud (14 percent).
Identity theft occurs when someone wrongfully uses another person's information for economic gain. About seven million Americans become victims every year, according to a recent study by the Identity Theft Resource Center. The study noted the average victim spends 600 hours and $1,400 in out-of-pocket expenses to clear their name. Victims can also suffer long-term consequences such as increased credit card fees, higher interest rates from lenders and refusals from collection agencies to clear a victim's records. Victims are further victimized with the loss of time taken away from their families and their work.
Prevention is key in stopping identity theft. These tips may prevent you from becoming a victim:
Don't carry credit cards that you do not need.
Cancel all unused, lost, or stolen credit card accounts immediately.
Keep personal documents such as Social Security cards, birth certificates and similar documents in a secure lock box or safety deposit box instead of carrying the documents or copies in a wallet.
Obtain credit history reports to review the information for any unauthorized activity.
Keep careful track of all receipts. Store personal data and receipts in a safe place or destroy them before putting them in the trash.
Do not give out personal identify information such as a Social Security number to any person or company unless you are familiar with them and you have initiated the conversation.
Finally, never feel embarrassed to report any questionable situation to your local law enforcement agency. Law enforcement officers will not ridicule your situation. They are there to help you and to prevent others to becoming victims of identity theft.