Diligence key to preventing identity theft

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Police raided several businesses accused of collecting stolen social security numbers with the possible purpose of stealing people's identities Monday.

13 Investigates discovered identity theft is a crime that can ruin its victims' lives for years.

"It created all sorts of problems and still does," said 71-year-old Eleanor Russell of her experience with having her identity stolen.

Russell held a folder on her lap Monday afternoon, full of forms and faxes, to show Eyewitness News what six months of trying to convince the IRS she was who she said she was looked like. She found out earlier this year someone used her social security number to file their federal income taxes.

"I nearly passed out when they told me. I couldn't believe it," said Russell.

Russell was just one victim of many every year. According to the IRS, the agency had more than 600,000 cases of identity theft last year. Monday, state excise police raided a dozen businesses across the state, arresting more than a hundred people suspected of stealing social security numbers.

"Diligence is your best protection," advised Terry Tolliver with the Indiana Attorney General's office.

Tolliver explained how people put themselves at risk.

"A lot of people are still walking around with social security information in their wallets. There's no reason for you to do that," said Tolliver.

If you discover that someone has stolen your identity, cleaning up the mess takes time.

"It certainly is not a fun process," said Tolliver.

You immediately need to contact credit card companies and tell them you've been a victim of identity theft. File a police report in case you need proof later to fight charges you didn't make on those cards. Also, you should contact the three credit bureaus and put a security freeze on your social security number, so more accounts cannot be opened in your name.

"Consumers need to keep in mind, if they didn't authorize the charge, then they're not responsible," said Tolliver.

"It's something that's not going away," Russell said of her experience.

Neither are the questions each time she has had to give her social security and a red flag appears next to it. After that, she's back trying to prove she is who she says she is.

You're entitled to one free credit report every year. Experts suggest ordering it and going over it. If you find a charge on the report you don't recognize, that could be your first sign someone has stolen your identity.