With so many reports on ID theft, credit card theft, consumer fraud, and other cybercrimes, it can be tempting to think there’s nothing anyone can do to protect himself.

Of course, that’s simply not true, as there are many steps that individuals can take to help minimize their risk of losing their personally identifiable information. The very first step begins with awareness and education, which has prompted the Illinois attorney general to go on an educational mission around her state, speaking to consumers and civic organizations in order to arm the public with knowledge.

Lisa Madigan (IL-D) has staged several roundtable discussions all across the state of Illinois, the most recent of which was held this week in Belleville. The purpose of these discussions is to let civic leaders know the most current information on identity theft and consumer fraud protection, especially where hacking and cybercrime are involved. Madigan is also focusing on scam awareness in order to help prevent citizens from falling victim to online scams, especially ones that prey on the elderly.

Madigan’s approach is to reach out to law enforcement, social service organizations, and community group leaders so that they have the necessary knowledge to pass along to others within their towns. This spreading of shared knowledge will hopefully make an impact on the nearly 30,000 citizens each year who file identity fraud claims through the Illinois attorney general’s office. To date, Madigan and her team have already handled some 35,000 cases that have resulted in over $26 million in fraudulent charges.

What is the attorney general sharing with the public in the hopes of preventing this type of crime? Madigan’s approach involves four key steps.

First, read bank, credit card, and other financial account statements thoroughly every month, and report anything that looks at all suspicious, no matter how small the charge may be. As she points out, sometimes thieves will make a miniscule transaction in order to determine if an account is still valid before racking up the big bills, so investigating even the smallest of strange charges is important.

Next, set up transaction alerts on all of your credit and debit cards. While consumers who use their debit cards as their primary means of payment may be annoyed at first by the email alerts for every transaction, there are different levels of alerts that consumer can choose from, including an alert for any transaction in which the card wasn’t present, or an alert for transactions over a certain dollar amount. These emails will keep consumers informed about activity on their accounts as it happens rather than waiting for the month to end and the statement to arrive.

If consumers have reason to believe there is a higher likelihood of fraud on their accounts, such as if they learn that their information may have been accessed by a hacker in a corporate cybercrime, it’s a good idea to have alerts or freezes put on their accounts through the credit reporting agencies. There can be a small fee associated with this type of alert, which requires lenders to verify the account holder’s identity before issuing a new line of credit, but anyone who has already been victimized is entitled to this option for free.

Finally, one last step can do wonders for tracking possible identity theft as soon as it happens, and it’s a step that all consumers really should be taking. By monitoring their credit reports frequently, consumers can follow all activity associated with their accounts within a short time frame. Since consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three reporting agencies, the ITRC recommends getting a report from one agency at a time every four months, rotating them throughout the calendar year. That way, consumers have a fresh, up-to-date glimpse of their credit data and any attempts at using their identities every four months. Individuals should be sure to request credit reports directly from the reporting agencies, and not through companies that have sprung up in recent months that require a membership fee in order to receive a report.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.