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Identity Theft: Dangerous, but preventable

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Any servicemember can become a victim of identity thief, but knowing how to protect yourself can help minimize the risks.

According to the Federal Trade Commission in 2007 the Consumer Sentinel--the complaint database--received more than 800,000 consumer fraud and Identity Theft complaints. The victims reported more than $1.2 billion in theft.

"I would have never guessed that would happen to us," said Tech. Sgt. Dave Warner, 8th Communications Squadron.

Sergeant Warner and his wife were victims of identity theft while living in Texas in 2008. Over a two-day period, the couple noticed more than ten $400 purchases made totaling more than $4,000.

"You hear the stories, but we were sure we were pretty careful about our credit cards. On Friday we were fine, and on Monday we were maxed out. It didn't seem right," he said.

Captain Imelda Antonio, 8th Fighter Wing Staff Judge Advocate's Office, said education is key to protecting against Identity Theft.

"Be aware! You can self educate yourself, read up on it, learn what it is and what you can do to protect yourself," said the captain. "If you're opening e-mails or if you're going to online Web sites you should make sure that it's a legitimate site, especially with your banking transactions. Contact your bank and make sure you have the correct [Web address] because there are false sites out there that look exactly the same."

According to Captain Antonio the first step if you think you are a victim of identity theft is to contact that institution to immediately notify them.

"Each institution is going to have a different process on how to address the issues" she said, "Typically they will open up an investigation and freeze the account."

Once the issue has been reported the next step is to contact the FTC at www.consumer.gov/idtheft and report any fraudulent activity and to your state attorney office.

The SJA office provides resources for members of the wolf pack to help them prevent Identity Theft and assist them though the process, from hand-outs to assisting in obtaining a credit report.

Luckily for Sergeant Warner, he knew to call his credit card company as soon as possible. The fraudulent charges were removed and he incurred no additional debt.

"I was pretty upset, it made us nervous and question online sites it sort of makes you feel violated," he said. "But I'm a lot better educated on the process now and know what to look for in the future."