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Ryan Johnson, Published October 15 2012

Cass County, The Village raise awareness of identity theft

FARGO – It’s one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, but Josh Huffman said many people here don’t think identity theft could affect them.

“They hear about it, they know about it, but they don’t always take steps to protect themselves because they think of it as something that happens in the rest of the country, but not as frequent here,” said Huffman, interim program director of The Village Financial Resource Center.

The Village and the Cass County Sheriff’s Department teamed up Monday to kick off North Dakota’s Protect Your Identity Week that runs through Saturday as a way of raising awareness of the crime that affected more than 8 million Americans last year.

Huffman said it’s a “huge issue” that’s hard to keep up with, especially as identity thieves rely on increasingly sophisticated methods to steal account numbers and other personal information.

“It seems that the general public is always a few steps behind in ways to protect ourselves,” he said.

But Huffman said there are some easy steps residents can take to make it less likely they’ll be a victim of identity theft.

He recommended carrying only one debit or credit card to limit the risk if a wallet or purse is lost or stolen.

Huffman said it’s also a good idea to keep a list of accounts and contact information for the banks or credit card companies in a secure place – information that could help in the event of identity theft to shut down accounts.

“But the big thing we recommend is regularly watching your accounts,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people have credit accounts and bank accounts and they’re not regularly monitoring these accounts.”

Shredding bank statements, junk mail with personal information and other confidential documents also can reduce the risk of being a victim, Huffman said, because many thieves dig through trash to get the information.

The Village Family Service Center at 1201 25th St. S. in Fargo will offer free document shredding, hard drive destruction and cellphone recycling from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday as part of the awareness week.

For more information, visit www.thevillagefamily.org.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587