Consumer Alert: Protecting yourself from identity theft

"I got home one day and I've got a package on my front porch from EBay which I did not order," says fraud victim Jill Carlson.

Carlson thought it was just a mix-up, but the next day she found a notice telling her to pick up another package. She got suspicious and spoke to the post office clerk.

"Is there a way to stop packages from coming to my house, there is something going," says Carlson.

Thieves stole her identity, opened an EBay account in her name and began ordering online with the intent of picking up the packages before she did.

"Just by chance, they missed two," says Carlson.

Carlson discovered the woman who stole her identity, Stacy Wallin, was part of a house painting crew she hired years earlier. Wallin and her crew knew Carlson's schedule and that's how they could grab packages from her home without anyone noticing.

"It became more personal at that point, the anger level was intense," says Carlson.

She didn't lose any money, but the damage done to her credit was devastating.

"I did have major problems with my credit report because all of a sudden you are late with a payment. They stole credit card statements out of my mailbox. They stole credit reports out of my mailbox. It took me probably a year to start rebuilding my credit," says Carlson.

The process is not easy.

"It's amazing how hard it is for you to prove you are the actual person. It's easier for them to change your records then it is for you to go back and prove that you are who you are," says Carlson.

"Prosecutors, both federal, state and local and the judicial officers have realized that ID theft is not a victimless crime and it impacts the very fabric of the American economy," says U.S. Postal Inspector E. Watson.

Postal inspectors say identity theft is growing at an alarming rate and can happen to anyone.

"Many of these victims cannot afford this and one act of ID theft can impact their lives, they can't pay for a child's education, they can't get credit," says Watson.

There are ways to avoid falling victim. You can order a free credit report annually and check to see if all the accounts are yours. Wallin was sentenced to more than three years in prison and ordered to pay more than $35,000 in restitution.

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