COLUMBUS COUNTY -- It's a growing problem across the country affecting thousands each year: identity theft. Identity theft can easily happen to you, but one county wants to make sure it doesn't happen to senior citizens. Last year more than 30,000 people fell victim to identity theft, about 300 of those in Columbus County alone. Identity theft victim Lillie Smith said, "It sounded good. It sounded good to the ear, but it wasn't." Like hundreds of other residents in Columbus County Smith attended Scam Jam 2007 to learn how to avoid another scam. Columbus County Department of Aging Director Ed Worley said, "That social security number, that bank account number, that name that they're trying to get out of them. We're trying to be very careful in getting this information out and that's the reason we're having this Scam Jam." Worley says a majority of identity theft victims are elderly. They're a vulnerable group. "They would be a person that may not be as alert as younger people are and they feel like those are the people they can really get to the heart," Worley said. "If someone comes to your door, trying to sell you something, you should be very suspicious," Worley said. Identity thieves can also target their victims through a phone call or a piece of mail. So to avoid getting scammed, officials suggest these tips: shred all of your personal information, never give out your bank account or social security number and keep your guard up. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Lillie Smith could have used this information two months ago. That's when she was scammed by an alleged health care company called well-care. Smith spent months filing paperwork to correct the problems the scammer created and says lesson learned -- she'll never get cheated again. "I'm back with Medicare," Smith said. "No more well-care or nothing else. Never again." County officials also say a great way to avoid identity theft is to check your credit report at least three times a year. Just log on to www.annualcreditreport.com for your free report.
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