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Preventing identity theft, what to do if you've been victimized

Local 10 News viewer says he's been victimized twice

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PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Richard Felker of Pembroke Pines said he's been the victim of identity theft not just once, but twice.

"Goodness, each time this happened I spent a good hour and a half to two hours going through the procedure to get it stopped. At the end, I had 11 cards compromised," Felker said.

Felker never lost his credit cards or wallet. He believes thieves changed his mailing address at the post office. 

"My bills that come to me, directly addressed to me, stopped coming," Felker said. 

Florida holds the country's top spot for ID theft; a complaint category that for the past 15 years has led the Federal Trade Commission's list of complaints.

The threat is not restricted to credit cards. Hackers can wreak havoc, so Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez gathered some advice on what, if anything, can be done to keep information safe.

Click here  to view the FTC report on 2014 Identity theft statistics.

"It's a big problem and there's a whole world of victims out there that may not even know it," consumer protection attorney Jason Weaver said. 

That's because thieves can steal your identity and hijack your credit without having your physical credit card.  E-mail, phone, and mail are ways thieves make contact with their victims.

Cyber data breeches, like the one recently reported at the IRS, demonstrate how quickly our personal information can be hijacked and exposed to identity thieves.

"It can devastate your credit score immediately," Weaver said. 

WEB EXTRA: Consumer protection attorney Jason Weaver on identity theft

But there's things Weaver said you can do to protect yourself:

1. Monitor your credit and get a copy of your credit report every year.  It's free. 

2. Give your credit card information over the phone only to larger companies that you trust.

3. Watch for ATM shoulder surfers and stick to bank ATM's.  Avoid portable ones like those that pop up at conventions or carnivals, as they are popular targets for ID thieves armed with card readers.

4. Don't click on links in emails from people or companies you don't know.

5. Check the URL and contact the company directly to confirm any advertised give-aways or prizes.

"Consumers who are victims of identity theft have to remember that they have got a two part problem. The first is their credit and getting it off their credit report.  And the second is contacting these people who say the consumer owes them money.  You need to tell them this isn't my debt," Weaver said.

Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV

Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10