By Tia Lynn Lecorchick staff writer

The Chamber of Commerce held its quarterly Women in Business event on April 30 at The Caboose, a local restaurant in Madison, to invite local business women for food, conversation, and talk about protecting yourself and your business from identity theft. The talk was given by Beth Pearson from United Bank in Madison. “Every year, there are millions of cases of identity fraud reported…And it’s on the rise,” said Pearson. “It’s important to monitor your accounts and protect your information in this day and age.” Pearson warned that a shocking number of identity theft cases happen between family members. “You think it would be stranger to stranger, but it’s mostly between families, especially lower-income families,” said Pearson. But Pearson also warned of the dangers of professional identity thieves. “It’s a big business. These criminals are smart. We have to be extremely careful about our accounts and personal information to protect ourselves and businesses,” said Pearson.

Pearson recommended that people check their accounts daily, at least twice a day. “Be vigilant,” said Pearson. She also recommended to mind the mailbox, to not let pre-approved credit card offers pile up and sit in the mailbox where anyone can come by and steal them. Pearson advised the women to shred as much excess paperwork with their personal information on it as possible. Pearson directed the audience to visit www.optoutprescreen.com, a site that gives people the option to halt pre-approved credit card offers. She also said that the use of debit cards and online banking, especially while using public wifi connections, leave people especially susceptible to identity theft. Pearson recommended for people to inquire of their personal banking institutions about a “positive pay” program, which is usually a free service, that helps protect against fraudulent check cashing. Another proactive measure people can take to protect themselves from fraud is taking advantage of free credit reports. According to Pearson, you can get up to two free credit reports a year.

“Sign up for a free annual credit report through www.annualcreditreport.com and make copies of your driver’s license and credit cards so that if your wallet or purse gets stolen, you have all copies to start rebuilding what was lost,” said Pearson. “It’s all about common sense. The biggest thing is to just check on your accounts and know your information,” said Pearson. Some of Madison’s most successful and influential business women and members of the chamber of commerce attended the event including Chris Hodges, Teri Hilsman, Esther Peters, Dianne Yost, Beth Pearson, Rhonda Smith, Robin Bone,Sherry Terrell Alexander,Shey Daniel,Velde Hardy, Debbie Collins, Jodie Schmidt, Rennie Nestor, and Pat Hodgetts.