Educated consumers top defense against identity theft

Identity theft complaints rose one spot to become the fourth most cited type of consumer complaint in 2012. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the 508 reported complaints in 2012 more than doubled the previous year’s number. A study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that more than 250,000 Americans had their identity stolen in 2010, almost 3,000 of them in Wisconsin.

Anyone is a potential victim of identity theft, from infants to the elderly. The number one defense against fraud and identity theft is an educated consumer. National Consumer Protection Week, which recently concluded, allowed consumers to renew their focus on protecting themselves from criminals, cyber or otherwise.

The following is some advice anyone can use to help protect his or her identity:

Know what’s in your wallet/purse. In the event your purse or wallet is stolen or lost, you should know everything that’s in it so you can act quickly to prevent identity theft and fraud. Know which credit cards you need to cancel, and keep photocopies of each card in a safe place. Having these copies will help when you need to know account numbers to cancel the cards. Also be aware of the information on your cell phone. Home, work, and bank phone numbers can give potential identity thieves a lot of sensitive information.

Shred anything with sensitive information. Never throw out or recycle documents with personal information on them without shredding them first. Consider switching to e-statements or electronic billing when possible to reduce the amount of paper you’ll need to keep track of. To help those who don’t own shredders, many banks have promotional “shredding days” during which customers visit the bank branch and shred their sensitive documents for free. Check with your local financial institutions to see if there’s an upcoming shredding day near you.


Search for your information online. An identity thief doesn’t need to go dumpster-diving if you post personal information online. Spend some time trying to break into your own account. Blogs, social media profiles, and online résumés are treasure troves of information for criminals. When creating passwords and updating accounts, remember that most password recovery systems use a “security question” system and then send a new or temporary password to your email account. Information like your mother’s maiden name, your first pet, and the street you grew up on are common, so make sure that information isn’t readily available online.

What if your identity is stolen?
No matter how careful you are, you or someone you know may still become a victim of identity theft. File a police report as soon as possible, then call your bank and notify it of the situation. Your banker may be able to offer you further advice on how to contain the situation. You can also visit for a step-by-step guide on how to recover from identity theft.

Rose Oswald Poels is the president and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.