About two dozen area residents were treated recently to an educational seminar titled "Preventing and Understanding Identity Theft" at LCCC courtesy of Longhi Financial of Hometown.

This seminar was a third in a series of educational seminars offered at no charge to area residents.

Someone's identity is stolen every three seconds in the United States. Thieves are making billions buying and selling identities, and most consumers have no idea their information is out there, up for sale.

"It is important to educate the community concerning safe and smart financial decisions," said Juliann Longhi, certified financial planner with Longhi Financial.

"Simply put, identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission," said Stanley Warner III, CPA, MBA, Longhi Financial.

It is a serious crime that disrupts personal finances, credit history, and reputation. It usually takes time, money and patience to resolve.

Identity thieves might go through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills and documents that have sensitive information. Some thieves work for businesses, medical offices or government agencies, and steal personal information on the job. Many thieves will misuse the name of a legitimate business, and call or send emails that trick you into revealing personal information. Some will even pretend to offer a job, a loan, or an apartment,and ask you to send personal information to qualify. Among the most common types of related thefts are simply stealing your wallet, purse, backpack, or mail and removing your credit cards, driver's license, passport, health insurance card, and other other items that show personal information.

The speakers pointed out important tips to prevent or detect identity theft. Some of which consist of reading your credit reports, bank, credit card and account statements, shred all documents that show personal or financial information before throwing them out, don't respond to email, text and phone messages that ask for personal information, create computer passwords that mix letters, numbers and special characters, only use websites that protect your personal information via encryption (i.e. the website starts with https://), use computer anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and set your computer's operating system, web browser and security software to update automatically.

They added that you have a right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Order all three at once, or order one report every four months. To order the free report, goto annualcreditreport.com or simply call (877) 322-8228.

Each company's credit report about you is slightly different, so order a report from each company. Of course, when you order, you must answer some questions to prove your identity. Read your reports carefully to see if the information is correct. If you suspect your identity has been stolen, call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you first contact must contact the other two so they can also put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days. Phone numbers are Equifax - (800) 525-6285, Experian - (888) 397-3742, and TransUnion (800) 680-7289. Another way to file a complaint is via the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or via (877) 438-4338; TTY: (866) 653-4261 or by simply taking your FTC Affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report.

The FTC also provides tips and available resources on their website at ftc.gov/idtheft