STILLWATER—With the modern day Bonnie and Clyde duo recently caught for identity theft, it has made many people more aware that being a victim of this type of theft is becoming more common.

According to a recent survey by The Federal Trade Commission, 8.3 million American adults, or 3.5 percent of all American adults were victims of identity theft in 2005.

The survey cited that of the victims, 3.2 million experienced misuse of their existing credit card accounts, 3.3 million experienced misuse of non-credit card accounts and 1.8 million victims found new accounts were opened using their personal information.

“Identity theft can happen to anyone; it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live,” said Glenn Muske, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service interim associate dean, assistant director family and consumer sciences. “People need to learn to discourage identity thieves and monitor their records to spot suspicious activity on their financial records.”

The costs associated with identity theft varied widely according to the survey. The survey looked at the value by looking at the cost of the goods or services that the thieves obtained. Thieves obtained goods or services worth $500 or less in at least half the incidents; however, in 10 percent of the cases thieves got at least $6,000 worth of goods or services.

Some thieves may get information from businesses or institutions by stealing records from employers, bribing or conning an employee who has access to the records, or hacking into the organizations’ computers.

Muske said these are just some of the ways of stealing an identity. Other identity theft methods include thieves rummaging through trash or stealing mail which may include bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, checks or tax information.

They also may get information by posing as legitimate business or government officials or by getting consumers to respond to bogus electronic mail messages and reveal sensitive information.

“Once identity thieves have the information, they may go on spending sprees using your credit card or open new credit card accounts using your name, date of birth and Social Security number,” Muske said. “When the bills don’t get paid, the account is reported back to your credit report. Thieves might use your name to take out an auto loan, establish phone service or open a bank account.”

Muske said by cautiously managing personal information and being aware of the issue, consumers can help guard against identity theft. For example:

—Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or are sure you know who you are dealing with. Confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate representative of a legitimate company or organization by contacting their Web site or calling customer service using the number on your account statement or in the telephone book.

—Don’t carry your Social Security card around with you; store it in a safe place.

—Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, are employing outside help or having service done in the home.

—Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at the post office rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Remove mail from your mail box promptly.

—Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you actually need.

—Ask about security information at your workplace, doctors’ offices and at other locations where personal information is collected from you.

—Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Use other identification whenever possible.

—Pay attention to billing cycles and follow-up with the creditor if a statement doesn’t arrive on time.

—Cancel all unused credit cards.

—Carefully and routinely monitor and check your credit card, bank and other financial statements for accuracy.

 The FTC has a publication, “To Buy or Not to Buy: Identity Theft Spawns New Products and Services to Help Minimize Risk,” to help consumers evaluate if they should initiate fraud alerts or credit freezes or invest in identity theft services and products that are for sale.

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