TAMPA - Gesu Anthony admits he didn't handle his first experience with credit cards very well, at age 18.
"I was a little careless," the 22-year-old University of South Florida senior said.
Back then, Anthony believes, his frequent visits to major retail websites with his newly-acquired plastic eventually allowed hackers to access his personal financial information. And away they went.
After the thieves put at least $100,000 in purchases on his credit cards, Anthony said he was able to get some of those unauthorized charges removed. But he says it took until 2010 -- three years -- to pay off the rest of the debts that creditors refused to budge on.
"I've become older and wiser," Anthony said. "I don't even have credit cards. I'm terrified. I refuse to get them."
Using only cash to buy goods and services is probably the only sure way to avoid becoming an ID theft victim, according to Kevin Bodie at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
But Bodie, a sheriff's detective corporal who has investigated financial crimes for two decades, said consumers don't have to go to that extreme. A few simple precautions should reduce the chances that your ID might be stolen:
- *Go to annualcreditreport.com , where you can download a copy of your credit report, as compiled by the three big consumer credit-reporting bureaus. Each company must provide a free copy of its report once a year. Bodie recommends not asking for all three reports at the same time. Spread out the requests, he said, to improve your chances that you will detect a new unauthorized credit account opened in your name during the course of the year.
- *Be careful around automated teller machines and gas pumps. Thieves have placed skimmers on both ATMs and gas pumps in Hillsborough County, Bodie said. The devices record the data that are stored on the magnetic strips of credit and debit cards. The most cunning crooks also place hidden cameras so they can pick up PIN numbers as they are punched onto ATM keypads, he said.
- *Shred all paperwork you wish to discard that includes information like Social Security numbers, dates of birth and account numbers. Unsolicited credit card offers should never be thrown in the trash with being shred. "Shredding is the quickest and the easiest way to dispose of the information that you don't want to get into somebody else's hands," said Bodie.
ABC Action News is taking action for you by teaming with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Clearwater Police Department, PROSHRED Security, Westfield Shopping Centers and WQYK to host our second annual "Operation Shredding" event on Saturday. For more information, go to abcactionnews.com/shred .