Keep an eye on ... everything

There are certainly plenty of things to fear in this world.

Our anxiety actually begins as children, as we’re instructed to not talk with, or accept candy from, strangers. We’re taught to walk home from school with a friend, to never wander away in the grocery store and to never again put a lollipop wrapper around an electrical wire and hand it to our baby sisters (a story for another time).

The seeds of fear planted, we begin to compile our own unique sources of apprehension as we travel down life’s winding road. We might fear talking to that pretty girl in history class, or walking down certain roads at night or sticking half a peanut butter sandwich down the pants of the kid nicknamed “Bone Smasher” in our high school. Some of these fears are born of past experiences, while others come from just plain common sense.

Regardless, we individually look at our fears and determine the best way to avoid the consequences they wield.

The fears do not altogether go away as we get older. Sure, we learn that some of the things we found frightening in our youth are not that scary at all as we get older, but new fears take their place. We might fear terrorists or financial disaster, the health of our children or that person standing a few feet away from us at the ATM. Once again, we know these fears deep inside and try to determine the best way to avoid them.

There are other fears out there we often just kind of chalk up as things that happen to other people. We can put identity theft under that heading.

Kim Berkmyre, who runs Creative Childcare in Frankford, recently discovered that identity theft can indeed hit our little slice of Heaven by the shore.

Berkmyre said that a parent of one of the children under her care took a catalog of hers not that long ago. This is one of those catalogs that allows a customer to open a credit account right through the company for purchases from that book. This parent, said Berkmyre, filled out the application form, switched the address from Berkmyre’s home to his or her own and began ordering products.

Scary, huh?

“I’ve learned now that you just can’t throw away those catalogs when they come,” said Berkmyre. “You have to burn them. That’s what I do now.”

As for the person who allegedly stole Berkmyre’s catalog — and identity — well, things could probably be going better for this individual. The suspect was recently arrested and Berkmyre said the postal inspector is also getting involved — making this a federal crime via mail fraud.

Pretty serious stuff, this identity theft.

Selbyville Police Chief Scott Collins passed along a pamphlet he had on deadling with identity theft, published by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Some of the tips to avoid the problem include collecting your mail as soon as possible after it is delivered, remembering to grab your receipt at ATM machines and gas pumps and refusing to pass along your social security number or other sensitive materials over the phone.

“Most of our tips are common sense,” said Collins. “But due to the use of credit cards, Internet transactions and the vulnerability of computer systems, it is very difficult to protect yourself when your information is not in your own hands.”

A few months ago, after a young woman was accused of swiping people’s credit cards to make copies at a Route 54 restaurant, Collins told me that he doesn’t like going to places that require him to hand over his credit card so it leaves his sight.

Apparently, judging by the consistency of Collins’ advice, this should be well considered by all of us.

We are at risk. Technology has advanced more rapidly than our laws and personal protection have, thus keeping the bad guys one step ahead. So, how do we stay ahead of our own personal finances and ensure that if something like this happens to us we can catch it quick?

Berkmyre got lucky in that she was applying for another credit issue when it was brought to her attention that “she” had recently been given credit to this catalog. Actually, it’s probably not a bad idea for each of us to sporadically check our credit reports to see what’s been reported. Collins also advised that it’s extremely important to check our own bills, especially our telephone and credit cards, to catch unauthorized use.

If there has been identity theft, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service pamphlet advised that victims call the three reporting credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), the Federal Trade Commission, local police, the U.S. Postal Service and the Social Security Administration.

Big hassle, huh? And truly something to fear.

Oh, and I digress.