Beaufort News

SC treasurer urges ID theft prevention in Beaufort County

Special to the Packet and Gazette,

Beaufort County residents must be vigilant about monitoring their credit histories and protecting personal information as financial fraud and identity theft continues to climb across the Palmetto State, S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis and credit-card industry officials say.

Loftis and representatives from MasterCard and the American Association of Retired Persons spoke to a small group of Sun City Hilton Head residents during an hour-long seminar Tuesday at Pinckney Hall. The event was part of a four-city "Financial Literacy Tour" that also took Loftis to Charleston, Rock Hill and Columbia this week.

The seminar told residents how to safeguard themselves against identity theft, a crime that has become increasingly prevalent in the Lowcountry and across the state, Loftis said.

"I was talking with a young man yesterday who used to work for a car dealership and said people who had been victims of identity theft six or eight or even 10 years ago were still paying higher interest rates," he said. "Everybody's busy, and it might not seem like you've got time to do an audit of your personal financial situation, but you've got to."

Statewide, cases of identity theft increased 15 percent, from 2,762 complaints in 2010 to 3,168 last year. That bumped South Carolina from the 29th state for identity theft complaints per capita in 2010 to 20th in 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

In Beaufort County, the increase was even greater. Reports of identity theft rose by nearly 55 percent, from 108 reports in 2010 to 167 in 2011, according to analysis of the Federal Trade Commission's consumer complaints by LifeLock, a company that offers identity-theft protection.

Wendy Murdoch, a fraud prevention expert from MasterCard, said the credit card and banking industries in recent years have increased security for online shopping, but much of the onus remains on consumers.

"The more you have control of your credit or debit card, the safer you're going to be, so monitor your accounts and monitor your transactions," Murdoch said. "Also keep in mind that it is highly unlikely that your financial institution is going to call or email you to discuss your card, your account or your transactions."

Other tips to prevent identity fraud include making sure credit card information is only entered online over secure wireless connections -- not, for example, at a coffee shop that has free Wi-Fi and doesn't require a password to log on. Old bank statements and credit card applications should be shredded.

Identity theft is the top consumer complaint reported to the FTC for the 12th consecutive year, according to the agency.

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