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Sep 29, 201403:18 PMOpen Mic

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What’s more valuable than free beer?

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Ya gotta love fall in Wisconsin. The leaves are turning, the “W” is flying, and the Better Business Bureau is hosting its biannual free document-shredding event. All right, I’ll concede that free shredding is not as exciting as a pregame tailgate with free beer. However, it can be far more valuable to you and your customers.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the U.S., and according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 16 million people were victims of identity theft in 2012.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a crime in which someone uses your personal information for an illegal purpose, usually for financial gain. However, identity theft can take the forms of criminal identity theft (someone using your good name to obtain a clean record or driver’s license), medical identity theft (someone using your medical benefits), tax identity theft (someone filing a tax return with your Social Security number), or credit identity theft (someone securing new lines of credit with your information).

What is ‘personally identifiable information’?

Your “personally identifiable information” (PII) is any information held by an agency used to distinguish or trace your identity. It includes your Social Security number, your date of birth, your credit card numbers, or your bank account information. If this valuable information lands in the wrong hands, you may become a victim of identity theft. Victims sometimes don’t discover that their names have been used until months later when they find themselves with a credit report mess that is both costly and time-consuming to clear up.

How can you avoid identity theft?

The Wisconsin BBB offers the following advice for protecting yourself:

Pay attention: Make sure you know when and how your personal information is used. Be aware of who might have easy access to your information in your mailbox, computer, or files at home or at work.

Be discreet: Don’t give out your information via the phone or Internet unless you are absolutely positive you know the person or organization is reputable.

Travel light: Don’t carry your Social Security card, extra credit cards, birth certificate, or passport unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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Make your voice heard with IB's "Open Mic." Send your blog entry to Online Editor Jason Busch at jason@ibmadison.com for consideration.

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