They prey on an individual's private information in the hopes of financial gain.

Identity theft is a bona fide threat that isn't to be taken lightly, according to Janene Holter, senior supervisory special agent in the Office of Pennsylvania's Attorney General.

Holter recently addressed members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce on the matter of identity theft, and said 40 million Americans lose their identity each year.

"We're trying to tell people to limit the amount of credit cards people have in their wallet," said Holter, who added the average person carries 12 credit cards on them.

Holter said identity theft is both a state and federal crime, and that 10 million people lose their credit card each year.

"This presentation is to educate, not alarm," she said. "This is to say, listen, that is how you protect yourself."

Holter said the average fraud amount per case is $6,383. The total one year cost of identity fraud in the country is $58 billion, she said.

Over half of all identity theft is perpetrated by family, relative, friend, or in-home service provider, Holter said.

"We're not saying we can't trust people," she said. "But, we have to be aware."

In most instances, Holter said information is obtained as the result of carelessness, theft and trickery.

Holter cautioned that a hand-held skimmer device, whereby a magnetic strip records account information and pin numbers, is often used to commit fraud.

Phone scams are another example, said Holter, who added that people should never give their personal information to a caller; never provide banking or credit card numbers; never complete unsolicited surveys; never donate to charities over the phone; and never trust caller ID display.

Holter said several forms of trickery that exist online including phishing, which is a scam by email sent to redirect a person to a specific website; spoofing, which is a fraudulent reproduction of an official website; and con-artists who highjack logos of well known banks. In addition, she said people need to use caution when posting their resumes at online sites.

Cyber crime was the next area Holter discussed; specifically, the online do's and don'ts: Don't look for the last two http's on a secure site; do create unusual passwords; do have updated firewalls and security software; don't open emails from people they don't know; and don't provide personal information online.

From there, she discussed medical identity theft, and seven ways to avoid becoming a victim: Secure, shred, secret, safeguard, statements, stop and send.

Holter said those who are victims should contact police; open new accounts with different pins; and start a secure file of all correspondences.

Chamber President Peter Kern thanked Holter for her presentation, which he said was conducted in an efficient and professional manner.