Identity theft can happen to you, but you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim

Stacy and David Lyles had to tell their 3 children their summer trip to Disney World had to be canceled after an identity thief stole Stacy's personal information.

The thief filed a false tax return in February using Stacy's Social Security number, took her $6,000 tax return, and then went shopping at Best Buy, the Lyles said.

"They bought multiple iPads, and a laptop. She was so tired from stealing everything, she stopped for some candy bars and a power drink before proceeding to another Best Buy," said Stacy.

Police say the crook opened multiple accounts. The credit request notices filled their mailbox. Then the female suspect avoided a security camera at a U-Haul, and rented a truck using Stacy's identity.

"She was wearing sunglasses and a hat the entire time, they never asked her to take off the hat, they never checked her driver's license," she said.

Stacy says U-Haul threatened to arrest her. The truck was abandoned and recovered 3 weeks later.

"I shred everything and then I create a shred pile and then a couple of times a year I burn everything," said her husband, David.

David Lyles is a firm believer in shredding as a key way to protect your identity. He's not sure how thieves got his wife's Social Security number, but warns shoppers to be extra careful on how, when, and where consumers release account and personal information while shopping this holiday season.

Meanwhile the Lyles have spent hundreds of hours trying to recover their identity and restore their credit score. But they fear another thief could strike again.

"It's a waiting game now, when is it going to happen again. It's not if it's when," he said.

CredAbility , the consumer credit counseling agency, has a series of recommendations to protect your identity.

-When conducting business online or over the phone, never share personal or financial information unless you have initiated contact and know who you are talking to.

-Remove from your wallet credit cards that you don't use regularly, Social Security cards or other cards that may contain your Social Security number, such as insurance cards.

-Check your online social networking account privacy settings and limit what you share with others. Remove personal contact information, birth date, city of residence, and any other personal information from public view and consider removing it altogether.

-Shred everything, including unsolicited applications for credit cards and other loan products, and credit card receipts. If it has your personal information on it, it is always better to shred it before throwing it away.

CredAbility also has suggestions for what you should do when you find your identity has been stolen.

-Contact the fraud departments of any of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file:

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; ; Fraud Victim Assistance Division,
P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; ; P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); ; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

-Once you call one credit bureau, they are required to notify the other two. Once you place the fraud alert on your file, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each. Request that only the last 4 digits of your Social Security number appear on the report. Review the reports carefully, looking for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.

-Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

-File a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form, which can be downloaded at: ; or through their toll free Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Be sure to call the hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

-File a report with your local police department and get a copy. You may need to submit this report to creditors and others to prove the theft.


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