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The following is an archived video story. The text content of that video story is available below for reference. The original video has been deleted and is no longer available.

Protecting your personal information

How well do you protect your personal information like your social security number or bank account?  You'd be surprised how easy it is for someone to gain access to your accounts and turn your life upside down.

We asked people locally how they protect their information.

"I throw it away and not worry about it, but I know I should at least tear it up" said Michael Gravalee, Escambia County Resident.
Apparently Michael is one of the lucky ones at least for now.  Arthurrea Hart on the other hand learned the hard way.

"I was once a victim of it myself" said Arthurrea Hart, Fraud Victim.

Hart says someone got ahold of her social security number, worst part, she had no clue until

"They got a lot of money built up and they sent me the bill, instead of where they sent the money. So I had the FBI knocking on my door" said Hart.
"Anybody that has your personal information they can use your social security number to open up new accounts" said Daniel Rudd, Better Business Bureau.
Hart says it took a whole year to clear her name, and avoid paying hundreds of dollars.

"Ugh, it's really hard to get out of it, but got out of it so that was good" said Hart.
"I was very, very angry. I don't like it when someone steals from me" said Mary Pearson, Fraud Victim.

Mary Pearson is a small business owner, who also knows what it's like to have her personal information stolen.
"They said - did you write a check for $2400 and I said I absolutely did not" said Pearson.

Mary immediately went to the bank to make sure no other bad checks had been written.

"My next thought was how in the world did they get that information, who is this person and why did they pinpoint us?" said Pearson.
Turns out she was one of 55 victims who had accounts compromised with more than $60,000 dollars in losses.  Postal Inspectors say two suspects were producing and cashing counterfeit checks by stealing checks, and using information found on the checks to create new ones.
Authorities were able to identify some of the check cashers recruited as part of the ring, and charge them for their crimes.

"We were able to get one of the check cashers started working with them and that resulted in them doing recordings and phone calls and track their locations." David Nitz, US Postal Inspector

Both Mary and Arthurrea say they've learned a valuable lesson.  Check their accounts regularly, and when it comes to getting rid of documents with personal information Hart has some advice.
"I think people should go out and take their stuff and get it shredded because that information is very vital" said Hart.