Identity theft is a prevalent problem in today’s society and Ryan Getty, investigator with Ellis County and the District Attorney’s Office, encourages people to take every precaution in protecting their identity.

Getty hosted a seminar with residents of Country Garden gated retirement community in Red Oak recently, giving information on how to prevent identity theft.

Identity theft can occur in various situations — while in the grocery store, through mail theft, through the use of computer viruses or various computer scams.

“Most people don’t realize they are a victim of ID theft until at least 14 months later,” Getty said, adding that victims report an average of 175 hours actively trying to correct damage done after identity theft.

Getty said one way to check for identity theft is to get an annual credit report.

“At least once a year everyone should get a credit report,” Getty said. “If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, go to the police department. If you go to the Red Oak Police Department, they will give you a packet that tells you what to do, step by step.”

Getty said that after filing a report with the police department, victims should contact the bank, then the credit bureaus, then the Federal Trade Commission.

“The burden is pretty much yours to defend yourself,” Getty said. “Once you know you are a victim, it’s almost a full-time job to clear it up. It’s tough — that’s why it’s important to keep your identity safe.”

Getty said that one’s identity may be stolen at any time, any place.

“It’s amazing where they can get your information — trash, restaurants, e-mail, online purchasing,” Getty said, recommending online shoppers use sites such as eBay or sites supported by PayPal.

In order to protect from identity theft, Getty recommends several steps, including purchasing a shredder for the disposal of documents containing personal information.

“Always shred personal information,” Getty said. “Always keep as little amount of personal information on your person. If you don’t have to carry a purse, don’t. Lock your purse up at work.”

Getty also encourages people to be cautious of e-mails, phone calls and mail received.

“Be suspicious,” Getty said. “If they want something right now or it is too good to be true, don’t believe it.”

Getty used checks coming through the mail as an example of a scam, encouraging those in the audience not to cash checks from companies or people they don’t know. Instead, take them to the bank and have the bank report it or contact the Better Business Bureau.

Getty also discouraged clicking on links within suspicious e-mails. Internet users should always check if sites are secure by looking at the address bar — secure sites start with “https” while non-secure sites start with “http.”

“Don’t open e-mail from unknown sources. When I leave work at night I unplug from the server. If you have cable, I would unplug from the wall,” Getty said. “If it’s unplugged, no one can get to me.”

Getty encouraged the audience to use passwords incorporating special characters, which will slow down the hacking process.

“When you throw in special characters, the probability increases,” Getty said, saying most hackers use a hacking program that goes through the various number and letter probabilities.