Be careful out there. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission's 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network Report, Georgia is second only to Florida in identity theft complaints.
For those who are lucky enough never to have experienced the problem, ID theft is the practice of stealing your personal information for criminal activity. According to Equifax, an Atlanta-based credit report company, it could include taking over your credit card account, opening new accounts, taking out loans in your name, renting properties or accessing personal bank accounts.
While Florida's extra-high complaint rate is thought to come from it's high rate of transients, tourists and large elderly population, Georgia's dubious distinction is less clear.
"It's probably a combination of factors," said Michele Cacdac-Jones, senior director of communication with Equifax. "Unemployment is still very high but more than that, Georgia is number four in home foreclosures now."
And according to Cacdac-Jones, the leading type of identity theft in Georgia is government document or benefits fraud, such as tax ID theft and welfare fraud. In fact, that type of fraud increased from 46 percent of all identity thefts in Georgia in 2011 to 66 percent in 2012, she said.
No matter where you live, predators are out there lurking, Cacdac-Jones said, with a variety of methods to separate you from your cash and credit-worthiness.
"Children are a big target now," Cacdac-Jones said. "Even though children don't have jobs, they do have Social Security numbers. Many times the damage goes undiscovered until the child is 18 or applying for student loans."
Equifax officials say that even parents of family members have been found to use a child's identity information -- often in times of desperation.
"Be sure never to carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse," Cacdac-Jones said, "and be sure to shred sensitive documents you don't need. Keep your computer passwords unique and with strong characters."
According to officials, among the ways the thieves can obtain your personal information include:
— Collecting information you've shared through unsecured websites
— Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail
— Going through your mail or trash to find credit offers, bank and credit card statements or medical records
— Stealing information about you from an inside source, such as a criminal with access to "skimmed" credit card records
— Illegally viewing your personnel records at work
Further information on protecting yourself from identity fraud can be found at the federal trade commission website.