Courtesy of the Better Business Bureau of East Texas

BBB gives tips to safeguard personal information

TYLER, Texas – March 14, 2013– In the latest Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) report issued by the Federal Trade Commission, Texas ranks seventh in the nation for the most reported cases of identity theft per 100,000 residents. Out of 387 metropolitan areas nationwide, Tyler was ranked 112th and Longview was ranked 153rd with regard to the number of identity theft complaints reported from January 1, 2012 - December 31, 2012.

There were 28,299 reported cases of identity theft in Texas in 2012. Government documents/benefits fraud was the most common form of reported identity theft at 41 percent, followed by credit card fraud (12 percent), phone or utilities fraud (11) percent), employment related fraud (10 percent), bank fraud (7 percent) and loan fraud (3 percent).Those aged 20 – 29 remain the most heavily targeted group, making up twenty-one (21) percent of the total number of victims reporting their age in CSN.

Another report from Javelin Strategy and Research indicated that there were 12.6 million identity theft victims in 2012, up from approximately 11 million the previous year.

“To avoid falling victim to identity theft, prevention is key”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “While there’s no absolute guarantee, shredding sensitive documents, using a PO Box or a locked mailbox and remembering not to give out personal information over the phone can definitely lower the chances of becoming victimized.”

BBB invites consumers and businesses to bring documents to be shredded to Secure Your ID Day, which will be held on Saturday, April 20 at BBB Tyler offices from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

BBB also advises consumers have a document retention schedule. BBB offers the following suggestions:

· Insurance documentation: Keep everything as long as you have the policy. Also save any paperwork regarding unresolved claims/coverage.

· Keep utility, cell phone and similar bills only until you receive confirmation that your payment has been processed. The only exception to this is if you are self-employed. Self-employed people should keep these records longer so they can prove any deductions on their tax forms.

· Loan documentation: Keep all paperwork until you pay off the loan. Then, you can shred everything except the document that proves you paid in full.

· Monthly bank statements: Find out how much time your bank and/or credit cards give you to challenge incorrect statements. Keep them until you are no longer able to challenge them. This is typically between 60 days to one year after the mistake is made.

· Keep one year:

- Paycheck stubs: Don't throw away your paycheck stubs until you receive your annual W-2 form from your employer. If everything matches, feel free to shred your pay stubs. Then, keep your W-2 forms for at least a few years.

· Keep three years:

- Bank statements
- Expired insurance policies

· Keep seven years:

- Tax returns, canceled checks/receipts, records for tax deductions taken. The IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks that you underreported your gross income by 25 percent or more.

· Keep forever:

- All paperwork related to bankruptcy, inheritance and wills.
- Auditor's reports.
- House/Condominium records: It is a good idea to keep documents of expenditures related to house/condominium improvements. Capital purchases that improve or enhance the value of your home when you sell your property may lower your capital gains tax.
- IRA contribution records: If you made a nondeductible contribution to an IRA plan, such as a Roth IRA, keep your records to show that you were already taxed for this money.

For more information on how to be a savvy consumer, go to To report a fraud or scam, call the BBB Hotline: (903) 581-8373.