There is no question that identity theft is a problem in Arizona, but there are ways to keep private information out of public hands.
The state ranks No. 2 in the country in cases of identity theft, according to a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. In 2009, there were about 119 reports of identity theft complaints per 100,000 residents. Florida ranked first with 122 per 100,000.
What may come as a surprise to some is the age range that is the most victimized is 18 to 39. Forty-nine percent of those who reported being a victim of identity theft were between 20 and 39, according to a 2009 report by the Federal Trade Commission.
Jerry Cobb, of the county attorney's office, said this number is tied to illegal immigration. Undocumented workers need real names and Social Security numbers, so those in the working age are the biggest target.
"The biggest source of identity theft in Arizona involves stealing of personal information to gain unemployment," Cobb said. "The working population is targeted."
Seniors are another target of identity thieves. A common tactic for a scam artist is to pretend to be from a company or organization and request confidential information over the phone, he added.
"There is never an instance where you need to give your full Social Security number over the phone," Cobb said. "There are some occasions where you need to give the last four digits, but it's rare."
To help protect against identity theft, Cobb said the county attorney's office recommends these tips:
• Don't just throw away documents with personal information that includes tax returns or health and financial statements. Destroy them with a paper shredder.
• If you are selling or getting rid of a computer or smart phone, destroy the hard drive or employ a company that will magnetize it to ensure all your personal data is erased.
• Password protect all computers and smart phones.
• If your phone is stolen, call your provider immediately because most of the time they are able to wipe personal data remotely.
• Have a locked mailbox.
• When you are making a purchase online look for verification that says your connection is secure. For example, if your address bar reads "https."
To help people safely destroy their personal documents, the county attorney's office hosts shred-a-thons where people can bring as many as five boxes to be shredded free of charge. They also host an event every other month in which they will collect old phones and computers to destroy.
If you feel that you have been a victim of identity theft, you can contact local law enforcement or visit the Federal Trade Commission website, www.ftc.gov, to file a complaint.
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