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Making Ends Meet: Fight ID theft, fraud by shredding and recycling

Updated: Sep. 20, 2019 at 4:36 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The impact of fraud, identity theft and consumer scams can last for months or even years.

The negative impact certainly can affect your finances, but the toll can also weigh heavily on you emotionally, physically and socially. It is better to be proactive when protecting yourself than reactive, but most of us do not take the necessary steps to keep our important information private and safe.

“Somebody’s identity is stolen every two seconds,” said Karen Renata, an outreach volunteer for AARP Louisville.

Identity theft is a crime that can damage your credit status and cost you lots of time and money to restore your good name.

“There’s somebody, somewhere in this country or another, who’s looking for just that one opportunity to get in and get your information,” Renata said.

In today’s fast-paced, hectic, high-tech world, our personal information can easily be confiscated.

“When we have huge credit breaches like we’ve had in the not so distant past, it’s gonna happen to everybody,” Renata said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., announced a data breach affecting 143 million consumers. The hackers stole Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. To check if your information was hacked, you can head to EquifaxBreachSettlement.com for more information.

Equifax agreed to a global settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and 50 U.S. states and territories. The settlement includes cash payments capped at up to $20,000 per person, or free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.

Old computers and cell phones no longer in use can be a treasure trove of personal information.

“We leave important sensitive information on computers and we don’t know how to get rid of it,” Renata said.

You cannot just throw your old personal computers away for many reasons. They must be properly recycled because they store toxins that are bad for the environment. They should also be wiped clean of all personal information, including passwords, account numbers, license keys or registration numbers for software programs, addresses and phone numbers, medical and prescription information, tax returns and other personal documents that you would rather not fall into the wrong hands. The cellphones we can’t do without can also offer hackers and scammers an open door to your finances. The FCC reported Americans received almost 18 billion scam robocalls in 2018. Imposter scams reportedly cost consumers $488 million last year.

“If there’s a number on your cellphone that you don’t recognize, don’t answer that call,” Renata said. “Let them go to voicemail.”

Scammers record your voice to use later to get access to your finances. Even the post, pictures and information you share about your life on social media can open a door for someone to hack into your life and your bank account.

“You’ve opened yourself up for a whole wide intrusion that you never thought just because you signed up to keep in touch with family and friends,” Renata said. “Think about the kids that are begging their parents, ‘Oh please let me have an Instagram. Oh, please let me do Tik Tok. Please let me have a Facebook.’ We’re having kids who are having their identity stolen in elementary and middle school.”

According to Upguard, a Mexico-based media company, more than 540 million records about Facebook users were publicly exposed on Amazon’s cloud. It exposed 146 gigabytes of Facebook user data, but remember identity theft, is not always so high-tech. Information you toss in the trash also can lead to a payday for someone looking to steal your identity.

“Scammers and people who want to steal your identity can go through the garbage cans and they will,” Renata said. “You may want to go get a credit card, home loan, car loan, a student loan for your child to go to college and without even your knowledge, someone could have abducted your identity from items you had no idea about.”

To protect your identity, your credit and your bank account, you should shred all receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements and expired charge cards. You should even black out or shred labels on prescription bottles and any similar documents when you no longer need them.

“Any information that covers your date of birth, name, Social Security number and definitely sometimes your phone number, those items you must protect,” Renata said.

On Saturday, AARP Louisville’s Fraud Watch Network invites anyone with personal records that need to be disposed of can come to a free shredding and recycling event.

RML Shredding will be on-site shredding sensitive documents. ISA Recycling will be on-site collecting old electronics. Accepted items include computer towers, all items out of the computer tower, laptops, cellphones and even VCRs. They are not able to accept TVs, computer monitors, co-ax cables with steel wire, propane tanks, telephones or computer keyboards.

The event will take place from 9 a.m. to noon at the Hurstbourne Town Fair Center at 1915 South Hurstbourne Parkway. You will find the disposal area in the old Walmart parking lot. For more information or further details, you can call the AARP office at 1-877-926-8300 or click here.

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