BAKERSFIELD, CA - When making a major purchase like a house or car, your financial history is a big factor. If someone is making a dent in your credit, you will be the one dealing with the negative consequences. According to a Javelin Strategy and Research report, last year, more than 12 million people were victims of identity theft - one million more than in 2011.
With numbers on the rise, more and more people are finding accounts and purchases they didn't know about or acquire themselves.
Katy Hudson, President of Credit Counseling Services is usually the one helping people with the consequences of identity theft, but it can happen to anyone.
"Someone stole my wallet, and it was right after I had started a new job so I had my social security card in my wallet, which you are not supposed to do. I had taken it for employment verification, which you have to do. So, someone got my driver's license and social security card and from there, they wreaked havoc," said Hudson. "They were able to get PG&E service, phone service, cell phones, new credit cards."
In 2012, 12.6 million people were victims of identity theft which equals about five percent of consumers.
Scammers racked up 21 billion dollars in fraudulent charges, the second-highest amount since the federal trade commission started keeping track in 2003. It all starts with one piece of information.
"Your social security number is everywhere. If you're a college student, it's there. Your employer has it. Your doctor's office has it. That number is everywhere," said Hudson.
Hudson said while it's important to protect your information and take steps to avoid identity theft, it's necessary to know if you're a victim. "You can do that by checking your credit report regularly. Check your bank statements regularly to make sure that all the charges and withdraws are authorized, your credit card statements, make sure that you're the one who charged those things, save your receipts so that you can identify things like that," said Hudson.
Identity theft can be costly and be devastating so it's important to know if you're a victim. "No one cares about your credit more than you do. So, unfortunately, you're the one who's going to have to be vigilant and watch out for it because no one else is going to," said Hudson.
There are laws protecting consumer rights. if you're a victim, file a police report and contact your creditor's fraud department as soon as possible. For a link to check your credit at no cost, visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp