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Beware identity theft

(PR Newswire)/ARLINGTON, Va. -- "Most Americans are completely unaware of the very real danger of having your identity stolen," said Susan Herman, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, in the wake of news reports on what has been described as the largest identity theft in Internet history.

Abraham Abdallah, a 32-year-old Brooklyn busboy, allegedly stole millions of dollars by using the Internet to invade the personal finances of wealthy individuals.

Identity theft affects more than 500,000 people and costs millions of dollars each year. It is a serious and debilitating offense that disrupts individual and family lives, often destroying a victim's credit history, life savings, and peace of mind. "Most victims are unaware that their personal data has been stolen until a credit card or loan application is refused or debt collectors demand repayment of unauthorized debts," said Herman. "And once stolen, personal information can be used repeatedly over months, or even years."

With enough personal information, including a Social Security number and home address, a criminal can take over an individual's identity to conduct a wide range of crimes, including false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, or obtaining other goods or services.

To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, The National Center recommends the following basic steps:

* Change your online password every 30 days
* Use a combination of letters and numbers in every password
* Never email credit card numbers or personal information over the Internet unless absolutely necessary
* Check your financial information regularly
* Order a copy of your credit report annually to check for discrepancies
* Shred bills and other documents with critical information before discarding

To obtain more information visit www.ncvc.org.

(c) 2001 PR Newswire

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