Arizona 2nd worst state in country for identity theft; how to protect yourself

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX - Ernest Rodriguez has to carry an "identity-theft passport" with him at all times. What's an identity-theft passport?  It’s a piece of paper that proves he is a victim of identity theft.

“He's not an innocent guy,” Rodriguez said. “He's messing me up he's tearing my life apart.”

"He" is a man named Hector Lara.

According to police records, Lara stole Rodriguez' identity, racking up several felonies and warrants in both names.

“Whether he wants to admit it or not, he's a bad guy; he's totally screwed up my life right now,” Rodriguez said.

One big issue is that Rodriguez now has trouble passing a background check to get a job to support his family.

He says he gets pulled over at least twice a month and even had to get a new Social Security number from the I.R.S., something identity theft expert Eduard Goodman says is extremely rare.

“It's typically in the most egregious and serious situations,” Goodman said.

Arizona is second only to Florida in identity-theft complaints. It had previously held the No. 1 spot for a several years.

Goodman attributes Arizona's abundance of identity theft to a number of things, but believes the biggest problem is enforcement -- or lack thereof.

He says only a small percentage of cases make it to the prosecution level.

“That's because there's so much labor involved, very labor intensive for law enforcement,” he explained.

Goodman, who manages Identity Theft 911, warns consumers to stay away from companies that claim to completely guard you against identity theft.

“There is no catch-all solution to it no matter what anybody is trying to sell or trying to say; there's no way to absolutely prevent it,” Goodman said.

You can, however, make it more difficult for thieves to steal your good name and all that goes with it.

Goodman reminds you to never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.

He also advises against carrying your medical ID card with you unless you have to. That’s because he says he’s seen an uptick in medical ID theft.

Keep sensitive information locked away, Goodman says, and shred your documents before you toss them out.

Report it right away if your personal information gets stolen.

But, who do you report ID theft to if it rarely gets prosecuted?

Goodman says a good place to start is the Federal Trade Commission.

Then, call your insurance or credit-card company.

Be aware that before you can recoup any money from them, you might have to file a police report with local law enforcement.

If you want to get rid of any personal documents, the Better Business Bureau is holding a free Secure Your ID Day shredding event Saturday, Oct. 23 from 9 a.m. to 11a.m. in central Phoenix. It's taking place at Merchant Information Solutions, Inc., a BBB Accredited Business dedicated to delivering world–class identity theft and background screening solutions. The company is sponsoring this year’s event, hosting it in their south parking lot at 301 E. Virginia Ave., Phoenix.

Consumers can bring up to three boxes of paper documents to shred on site by TNT Shredding and EZ Shredding Solutions. In addition to free shredding, the public can also bring used cell phones to be recycled by Wireless Alliance.

BBB is also partnering with the Arizona Attorney General’s Fraud Fighters to offer attendees tips on managing and safeguarding their identity. McGruff the Crime Dog will also be on hand to drive home the message to youth.

For more information on the October 23 Secure Your ID Day event, contact BBB Foundation at 602-264-2864 or visit arizona.bbb.org/id-day.