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Identity theft: What you don't know can hurt you

Dec. 5

When Larry started getting past due notices from businesses and banks all over the country that he had never patronized, he was confused and bewildered. He had always had good credit and was never overdue on bills.
​​Photo of ID theft kit.
​Photo: Learning about identity theft could safe you from
a world of problems down the line.

It took him awhile to connect the dots, but Larry finally remembered that his garage had been broken into while he was out of town—it was a burglary he didn’t discover until months later. But among other things, the thieves ransacked a filing cabinet in which Larry kept tax returns, which gave them access to his social security number.

It took Larry about a year to undo the damage. The first task was to figure out what to do to correct the situation. It involved talking to the police, the State of Minnesota’s Attorney General’s office, and “everyone I could find who might know something about identity theft.”

Before this experience, Larry says, “Identity theft was a concept I had no notion about or experience with.” But when it happened to him, he said that at first, “I was thinking maybe there was a way for someone to flip a switch and make everything better.” But Larry learned there is no such switch. Instead, “step by painful step, you have to track down every single detail of the identity theft.”

Hours turned into days and then months as Larry called each business at least once, then wrote down every single detail of what he had to do to fix it. It was, as Larry puts it, “an unbelievable nightmare of wasted time.”

And although the identity theft never cost Larry a dime (“Most places understand identity theft and that you don’t have to be responsible for it,” he explained), his credit score started to plummet. He had to work extensively with all three credit reporting agencies, and even then, it took six months before his credit score started to inch back up.

One of the most important things Larry did to get his identity back was to contact the Federal Trade Commission and file an affidavit with them, which included the police report number and gave legitimacy to his case. 

When asked what advice he would give to someone concerned about identity theft, Larry said, “Familiarize yourself with what identity theft is. Think about whether you value your credit score and financial status, because it could all go south very quickly.”

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs has a web page where you can learn more about identity theft and how to prevent it.

Fire safety: The best holiday tradition

Dec. 1

Ah, the holidays: Whether we have a house full of friends and family or we retreat to a little cabin in the woods, many of us do some combination of heating, cooking, and lighting candles. 
​Photo: We can't help you decide what to get Uncle Ed this holiday, but we can give you some great tips that will help
you and your family stay safe.

And although such holiday traditions make this time of year extra special, they can also make it dangerous. Just look at the statistics from last year: From Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day in Minnesota, there were 146 residential fires, one fire death and thee injuries. And the damages from all those fires? A jaw-dropping $4.6 million dollars. In nine days.

Fortunately, if you add fire prevention to your holiday traditions, you can drastically lessen the likelihood that a fire truck will show up at your door along with Aunt Mae and her famous tater tot hot dish. Unsure where to start? Try these tips:
  • You’ve heard of distracted driving, but there’s also distracted cooking.  Pay attention while you’re cooking, and never leave cooking food unattended.
  • If you need a space heater to help heat your home, turn it off whenever you leave the room, and keep it three feet from anything that could burn.
  • That goes for holiday decorations such as lights and candles, too: Keep them at least a yard from anything that could burn.
  • We can’t stress this enough: Don’t. Throw wrapping paper. In the fireplace. The ink that makes it pretty is often toxic and very flammable, and its embers can easily float out of the fireplace and set something else alight.
  • Got a fresh tree? Keep it watered. When they get too dry, they can get explosive.
  • Smoke alarms save lives – but only if they work. Which means you need to test them and your carbon monoxide alarms to make sure they’re working properly and add fresh batteries if necessary.
By taking just a few precautions, you can ensure that the biggest thing you have to worry about this holiday season is whether you’ll get another ugly sweater from Cousin Frank. But seriously, have a safe and happy holiday season!