ATHENS TOWNSHIP — Identity theft continues to plague Americans.

With many hitting the road for vacations during the warmer months, Terry Greene with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office warned that it’s a prime time for card skimmers, which can be placed on gas station card readers to steal credit card information.

“It really happens twice a year — the vacation season and then when daylight savings time ends and it’s dark because someone could very easily get in there. You think they’re getting gas when they’re putting a skimmer on there,” he explained.

Greene highlighted this and other identity theft issues as part of a town hall meeting held by state Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) during her 19th Annual Senior Expo on Friday at Lynch-Bustin Elementary.

According to Greene, 18 million people are affected by identity theft across the country each year, resulting in $16 billion in losses.

“You want to keep your personal information secure,” he told the audience, adding that a safe or lock box is ideal for papers with personal information that one might want to keep on hand. For other papers, he said to shred them before disposal.

With calls, he said to not give personal information out over the phone.

“You just have to be very conscientious about what you are doing with your personal information,” said Greene.

He also warned about phishing or spoof emails, or even fraudulent sites that show up in a search, that can impersonate shopping sites or credit card companies.

“Next thing you know your on there filling in personal information, your address, Social Security number, and it’s not even going to where you think it’s going,” said Greene. “You have to be very, very savvy when you’re on the web. You should be looking for secure websites. If you see a little lock or https, you’re pretty good.”

For those who believe that they have been the victim of identity theft, Greene said they should be to call their local police agency, close all of their accounts and open up new accounts with new pin numbers, contact the Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security office, and the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.

“You just have to be very conscientious about what you are doing with your personal information,” said Greene.

In addition to securing or shredding personal information, he advised people to call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT to eliminate the pre-approved offers that come through via the internet, examine credit card bills very closely, and request a credit report every four months from one of the three credit agencies, using a different one each time. Also, Greene wanted to make sure that people create a unique PIN for accounts since identity thieves will most often try numbers associated with something common such as a victim’s birthday.

“If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” Bradford County Sheriff Clinton “C.J.” Walters told the crowd during his own safety presentation, which stemmed from the more in depth NRA Refuse to Be A Victim seminars that his office hosts.

Much of Walters’ presentation focused more on staying safe and secure at home. He cited information from the U.S. Department of Justice reporting that one in three people who are home when someone gains entry could become a victim of violence.

“We live in a safe area, right? For the most part. We don’t live in a high crime area, but we should still keep our doors locked,” said Walters.

With that, Walters said people should make sure their garages are locked and, if they have a garage door opener in their vehicles, to keep those locked as well. He also advised attendees to not give out duplicate keys “to everyone and their mother,” don’t hide spare keys in common areas, and to change the default passwords on keyless entry devices.

Other measures of safety included making sure outsiders cannot see inside, trimming shrubbery to reduce potential hiding spots, installing thorny bushes beneath windows, install an alarm system or use a car’s panic button in the case of an intruder, and to not let strangers inside the home.

“If the gas company shows up in the middle of the day and says they need to check your furnace, and you don’t know what’s going on with your furnace, don’t let them in. Ask them for their identification,” he said. “ … Or how about this one? It’s probably a younger girl or a younger boy, and what are they doing? Maybe they’re selling vacuum cleaners or books. Don’t let them in if you don’t know who they are.”

Walters said he’s happy to hold a Refuse to Be A Victim seminar for any organization free of charge. With each session lasting around four hours, he noted that he likes to make sure they have a decent class size.

In addition, Walters noted than an enhanced Concealed Carry seminar will be held Sept. 12 at the Troy Sale Barn in partnership with the Tioga County Sheriff’s Office in Pennsylvania, Pickett, and state Rep. Clint Owlett (R-68). In addition to updates on concealed carry laws, there will be a variety of information regarding personal and home safety.

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I am the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily and Sunday Review.