BOONE COUNTY - Saturday marks the start of National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month and the Boone County Sheriff's Department is offering tips to keep consumers safe during the holiday shopping season. Detective Tom O'Sullivan said in all his years at the department, one of the biggest changes he has seen is an increase in identity theft and fraud - especially over the Internet.
"We get several calls about identity theft and fraud on a weekly basis," O'Sullivan said.
The National Retail Federation predicts about 52 percent of American shoppers will do some holiday shopping online this year and they are expected to spend 12 percent more online than last year. The growing trend to buy online also means an increase in identity theft and fraud this time of year and O'Sullivan says consumers need to be on their guard when it comes to protecting their personal information.
He offered this list of advice for consumers in the area doing online holiday shopping:
-Make sure the website you are purchasing from is secure. Look for trustmarks on the site and click on them to make sure they are valid.
-Never give out your social security number unless it's to a bank or government agency.
-Monitor your accounts as much as possible - this can be done easily via online banking.
O'Sullivan also said the threat of identity theft and fraud doesn't stop online. He said to make sure you don't throw away any material containing personal information.
There are also reports of crooks in the area following delivery trucks to steal packages that might contain personal information inside.
"The goal of these criminals is to get your personal info so they can turn it into financial gain for themselves," O'Sullivan said. And unfortunately, the majority of the criminals will never be caught.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, O'Sullivan says to contact your local law enforcement agency to file a report. The Boone County Sheriff's Department has a cyber unit that handles Internet crimes like online identity theft and fraud. You can read more about identity theft on the department's website.
The Federal Trade Commission also offers information about identity theft on its website here.