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Think about this before taking out the trash

Friday - 6/14/2013, 5:44am  ET

Joan Jones, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Personal information might not be so personal after all. Thieves lurk and steal IDs so they can live on someone else's dime.

"Very simple: dumpster diving is one of the ways to get it," says Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com, on ways to grab your personal information. "Driving through neighborhoods, opening mail boxes, seeing bills (and) opening them up."

Thieves like to use identifying information to open utility accounts in other people's names for things like cable TV or electric bills, Levin says. They don't pay the bill, of course, and it ends up bringing down credit scores, but it is sometimes years before anyone knows they have been scammed.

Levin advises people to always shred mail before throwing it away and regularly check credit reports to make sure there are no new unauthorized accounts.

Scam artists have also found a way to rig Caller ID to show the call is from the electric company, for example. The scam artist will ask the unsuspecting person to verify information in order to fix a made-up problem.

It is not a new scam, but Levin says it is getting more attention now because it targets seniors.

"Many people fall for this because they just don't know," he says.

One way to beat it: "First, check your utility bill, and then call back the utility company to make sure it's them."

Levin says it is also a good idea to contact the Better Business Bureau before agreeing to switch to one of the "new energy alternative companies" that offer better rates.

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