People can reduce their chance of being an identity theft victim through a free service today.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Lee Elder Abuse Prevention Partnership have teamed up to offer the fourth annual Community Shred Event. Secure Shredding will shred personal documents from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Big John's Plaza in Cape Coral, then from noon to 2 p.m. at a Fort Myers location.
"We find that a lot of our seniors do not shred their documents, their personal documents," Stacey Payne, community relations manager for the LCSO and co-chair for the LEAPP, said Tuesday.
Shredding documents that contain personal information can help to protect a person.
"A lot of seniors are open to becoming victims of identity theft," Payne said.
Old bank statements or tax returns that are thrown in the trash or filed away can contain account numbers or Social Security numbers, which is what the perpetrators specifically search for.
If You Go:
What: Community Shred Event
When: Today, April 30, from 9 to 11 p.m.
Where: Big John's Plaza on Southeast 47th Terrace, between Vincennes Boulevard and Southeast 15th Avenue
"Trash has been known to be stolen," she said, adding that is one way perpetrators gain information. "They will use that to access your accounts, or to open a new account or create a new identity."
Today, the public can bring up to two standard-sized boxes of materials per person for shredding.
"They can bring just about any type of paper, documents," Payne said.
Boxes do not have to be used, however, the paperwork should be removed from any binders.
"They can bring it in trash bags," she said. "We can throw that in."
People can watch the destruction of the documents in the shredder thanks to an internal monitor.
"They can see the shredding taking place," Payne said. "Very simple, very quick."
LEAPP volunteers will be on hand to help residents carry their materials.
Secure Shredding will dispose of the shredded paperwork.
According to Payne, the aim of the annual event is to help citizens get rid of their personal documents in an effort to prevent victimizations, as well as provide authorities with a chance to educate the public.
"It gives us an opportunity to remind people to secure their documents and information," she said.
Last year, an estimated 100 people showed up between the two locations to shred paperwork.
"We know that we have a senior population in the Cape and North Fort Myers, and this kind of gives a central location for them to come," Payne said of selecting Big John's Plaza as one spot.
The Fort Myers location is the Bank of America parking lot at the Bell Tower Shops on US 41.
For those who prefer to shred at home, Payne suggested a cross-cut shredder.
"It cuts documents vertically and horizontally," she said.
Payne recommended that people order a copy of their credit report once a year from each of the three credit agencies as a proactive measure. Free reports are available at: www.annualcreditreport.com.
"You can quickly determine whether or not someone has created credit for you," she said, adding that the reports also enable a person to see if any credit was opened due to a clerical or data entry error.
People should not order all three reports at once; instead, order one every four months.
"Every quarter you're receiving a fresh credit report," Payne said.
She also suggested that credit card and bank account holders not wait for their monthly statements to make sure everything is in order. It is easier to identify problems when monitored weekly or daily.
Payne pointed out that identity theft does not only involve adults.
"Children can also have their identities stolen or compromised," she said. "As parents we also need to keep an eye out for our children."
Anyone who believes that they are a victim of identity theft should immediately contact the credit agencies to determine if it is a clerical error or if someone indeed opened a line of credit in their name.
Payne recommended taking copious notes throughout the process.
"There are several steps they need to take," she said.
Victims of identity theft also need to fill out a report with law enforcement.
To report identity theft or for additional information, contact the Lee County Sheriff's Office fraud line at (239) 258-3292 or visit Lee Elder Abuse Prevention Partnership online: www.leeelderabuse.org.