Mt. Vernon Register-News

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February 21, 2013

Protect yourself against identity theft

MT. VERNON — — If the hit movie "Identity Theft" has done nothing else, it has brought attention to an age-old problem — protecting an individual's right to personal information.

Melissa McCarthy, a co-star on the prime-time network hit "Mike and Molly" is the perpetrator of identity theft in the movie. She steals the identity of Justin Bateman, who plays the role of Sandy Bigelow Patterson.

Local law enforcement officials say there are ways to protect your identity, although they admit even the most vigilant citizen can be scammed or have personal information stolen.

"There are several things you can do," said Chief of Police Chris Mendenall. "A lot of things are on spam e-mails. You should never open them up. Don't ever give out credit card information over the phone and in public. People at restaurants have been known to steal information."

Mendenall added, "It's very easy for people to steal your credit card information, but even the most diligent person can still become a victim of identity theft."

Mendenall said the most important thing people should do if they think they have become a victim is to notify the bank or credit card company which issued the card.

"If it looks like a fraudulent charge, in many cases you can get your money back," he said.

Sheriff Roger Mulch said the bottom line is to not release any personal information.

"People should take great care that if they receive mail — particularly junk mail — don't throw it in the trash because people go through your trash. If you have any personal information received in the mail it should be shredded."

Mulch also cautioned against letting people see you making credit card or bank card transactions in public.

"If you're using a debit card at the grocery store, make sure nobody sees you putting in your pin number. These people (thieves) have an instrument now no bigger than a credit card that can read your card and store it. They can print it, and if they have your account number and/or pin, they've got it made," Mulch said.

"Don't give out any of your banking, credit card or Social Security information out over the phone, ever," added Mendenall. "You can be very cautious and they can still get information. It happens. It's fairly widespread these days."

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