Protecting yourself against fast growing crime of identity theft

Protecting yourself against fast growing crime of identity theft

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Locals learned identity fraud prevention tips at a free event Saturday in Knoxville. Locals learned identity fraud prevention tips at a free event Saturday in Knoxville.
Chuck Atchley said his office is working to address identity theft crimes more aggressively in federal court. Chuck Atchley said his office is working to address identity theft crimes more aggressively in federal court.
Authorities say if you think you might be a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is file a police report. Authorities say if you think you might be a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is file a police report.

By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It's one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, but it can often go unnoticed for years.

It's identity theft, and it affects thousands of people every day.

Authorities are working harder than ever to teach consumers how to protect themselves against it.

Locals learned prevention tips at a free event Saturday in Knoxville.

The Consumer Awareness and Protection Event at the Knoxville Expo Center is part of a nationwide effort called National Consumer Protection Week.

The event focused on helping consumers not fall victim to fraud, scams and most importantly identity theft, which is when someone obtains and uses your personal information without your permission.

"Uses information to access maybe your bank account or buy things online. Basically getting any item of value using your identity," said Wendy Boles, of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Identity theft is a crime that once discovered, can often take years to make right.

"If someone has their identity stolen, it can be a terrible problem. It's very difficult to unwind. They of course can have loans taken out in their name. Credit cards taken out in their name," said Assistant United States Attorney Chuck Atchley.

Atchley says his office is working to address identity theft crimes more aggressively in federal court.

A number of agencies participated at the event, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Attorneys Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

So how do you stay safe?

First and foremost, always shred any sensitive documents.

There was a massive shredder on site today for locals to use.

"Anything with your personal information on it, like bank statements, credit card statements," explained Boles.

"Makes me feel good because I can see it getting chopped up that way you don't have to worry about someone going through your garbage," said Larrissa Henderson, who drove from Oak Ridge to attend the event.

Next, never give out any information online except to secure websites.

"Check your credit report yearly to make sure there's no errors, but also to make sure there's no accounts listed that you didn't open," said Boles.

Law enforcement officers say they are trying their best to catch identity theft criminals.

"We find these people. We arrest these people," said Kevin Kimbrough of the Identity Crimes Unit of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

However, they want to stop the crimes before they are even committed.

"You hear all these scary tales of people having their accounts wiped out and all these different charges. It's very scary," said Henderson.

This was the first year for the Consumer Awareness and Protection Event, but organizers hope to turn it into an annual event.

Authorities say if you think you might be a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is file a police report.

Also, contact your bank and let them know about the problem, and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report.

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