To Foil Thieves, Hide Personal Numbers

Article excerpt

Identity theft is preventable most of the time, retired FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza said, as long as consumers carefully guard bank and credit card account details and their Social Security numbers.

"The Social Security number is the most important thing. You can't be a victim of identity theft unless the thief has it," said Lanza, who was to speak last night on the South Side at an event sponsored by Nationwide and hosted by financial advisory firm Waddell & Reed.

Criminals commit credit card fraud when they steal a wallet and use cards to charge items in stores and online.

"ID theft is when someone becomes you and applies for new accounts in your name. That can cause all kinds of havoc in your life," he said Wednesday.

That's why Social Security cards should be kept at home in a safe place. So should senior citizens' Medicare cards, which contain Social Security numbers.

"If you have to go to the doctor and need to show the card, see if you can bring a copy of the card" with the Social Security information blocked out with a strip of white paper, for example, he said. Some physicians' offices will insist on seeing the card with the numbers, however, he noted.

Lanza speaks to groups nationwide about fraud prevention for individuals and corporations. He was an FBI agent for more than 20 years, working on corruption, corporate fraud, money laundering and other investigations, his website states. Lanza was head of internal security and a regional spokesman for the agency in Kansas City.

Consumer complaints about identity theft started to level off about 2006, but the crime has had a resurgence since the recession, he said. …