With ever-expanding technologies and an ailing economy, it is perhaps no surprise that identity theft has, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Web site, become the fastest growing crime in America.

As citizens become more tech-savvy and more reliant on their computers for everyday operations, it has become easier to access other people's information. Because computers are making things like banking and shopping online more convenient, a person's financial and identification information are more at risk. People want security and convenience with new technologies while not compromising one for the other.

This was the topic of a presentation by Scott Huber at a mid-March Astoria Rotary Club Meeting.

Huber is a certified information systems security professional and information security officer with Columbia Bank in Lakewood, Wash., the parent company of Bank of Astoria.

He is also a member of the Seattle-based Agora Group, an association of 300 security and information technology professionals who team up and attack specific databases in order to point out its flaws and stump potential hackers.

Although Huber's speech covered several different topics pertaining to identity theft, the importance of minimizing one's risk echoed throughout.

"You must be aware, be assertive and be an advocate," exclaimed Huber. "Identification thieves are always looking for new scams. Being proactive is really important because law enforcement officials aren't always aware of the most recent and successful scams."

He went on to explain that being aware and assertive is especially important as technology expands because of the degree of accuracy that identity thieves are capable of.

"It is no longer sufficient to watch your purse and shred your documents," he said. "Scammers can now download programs on your computer or use scanning devices to steal valuable information without even being in eyesight of their victims."

Another reason to be aware and assertive is because scammers tend to target the same victim on more than one occasion. A person may only notice a minor inconsistency on his bank statement or credit report and not think anything of it.

Huber explained that most of the time scammers hold onto stolen information for a long period of time before using it. They usually test the use of the information on something small then gradually use it for bigger things.

Common uses of personal and financial information by identity thieves include changing mailing addresses on a victim's credit card, opening new credit cards, establishing cell phone service, opening bank accounts, establishing auto loans, writing bad checks, filing for bankruptcy with the victim's name and giving the victim's name to police officers during arrests.

Although no one is completely safe from identity theft, Huber offered several tips on how to minimize one's risk.

These include requesting and analyzing a free credit report every four months; not giving out credit, debit or social security information by phone, mail, or the internet; guarding mail and trash from theft; confetti shredding all pertinent information; and not printing full names, addresses, phone numbers and driver's license numbers on personal checks.

With over 256,000 complaints of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2005 alone, the crime has become a significant problem in the U.S.

Huber said the FTC reported that Oregon had the 13th highest rate of identity theft victims and the West Coast had significantly more reported cases of identity theft than any other region in the U.S.

Identity theft in 2005 cost victims a total of $5 billion and businesses over $48 billion. On average, each identity theft case costs law enforcement agents from $15,000 to $25,000.

In order to recover damages in an identity theft cases, Huber said there are important steps that victims can take.

"Even if you are only suspicious that something is wrong you should immediately put a fraud alert on your credit report, close any accounts that have been tampered with, and file a fraud dispute form with the vendor," he said. "And if you know for a fact that something is wrong you should file a police report, request a credit freeze, file a complaint with the FTC and chart the course of your actions in detail."

Important identity theft contacts

Credit Reports

Equifax - www.equifax.com

Order report 800-685-1111

Report fraud 800-525-6285

Experian - www.experian.com

order report 800-397-3742

report fraud 800-397-3742

TransUnion - www.transunion.com

Order report 800-888-4213

Report fraud 800-680-7289

Federal Trade Commission

FTC identity theft hotline
1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)

FTC identity theft affidavit

Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities

Requesting a credit freeze

Identity Theft Resource Center

Privacy Rights Clearing House