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Signature advice helps fight identity theft in top U.S. cities

uni-ball(R) offers prevention tips as new findings uncover the nations top identity theft prone cities

Residents in cities big and small nationwide face the increasing threat of identity theft, yet a recent survey finds that less than 25 percent of Americans are taking the proper steps to protect themselves. According to findings released by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and uni-ball(R) pens ( today, Phoenix, Arizona tops the list as the U.S. city most at risk for identity theft(1). Cities rounding out the top ten include Riverside, Calif., Las Vegas, Miami, Dallas, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and San Antonio.

The "Secure Your Signature(TM)" ( program, a national campaign from uni-ball pens, is helping put these at-risk cities on alert and educate people across the country on identity theft prevention. Known for its pens that help prevent a type of check fraud called "check washing," uni-ball is teaming up with experts including the ITRC and certified privacy professional Mari Frank, Esq. (,6), to further raise awareness of the problem and provide simple, affordable solutions.

"Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country," said Mari Frank, who is also an attorney, author and former identity theft victim. "Although knowledge of the crime has grown in recent years, few people apply simple tactics necessary to help prevent identity theft from happening in the first place."

Frank, one of the uni-ball Secure Your Signature(TM) program ambassadors, says she finds it surprising that people refuse to provide private information online (78.7 percent of people surveyed) yet are often careless with their own private paper documents.

"Theres nothing more personal than your signature," said Frank. "A first step in protecting yourself from identity theft can be as simple as paying attention to the pen you use when you write a check."

Many uni-ball gel pens, such as the uni-ball 207(TM), use specially-formulated inks that contain color pigments that are absorbed into the paper fibers. When an individual tries to wash or lift the inked information written on the document, the ink remains "trapped" within the fibers of the paper, helping prevent check or document washing.

According to the American Bankers Association, check fraud is growing 25 percent each year. Combined with the fact that nearly 90 percent of those surveyed still write checks by hand each month, the potential for problems is real.

"With the majority of people still writing checks on a consistent basis, applying the right tools such as the pen you use could save you thousands of dollars and endless hours of headaches," said Frank.

"We are happy to team up with Mari to bring useful advice in helping prevent identity theft," said Howard Heckes, president of Sanford North America, marketers of uni-ball pens. "Our goal is to help ease the minds of individuals when signing sensitive materials -- from legal and medical documents to checks and tax forms."

Survey Says

The survey findings raise concern. Approximately 57 percent of people have had some form of identity theft happen to them or someone they know, yet only 34 percent are very concerned about becoming a victim themselves.

And, despite the popularity of online banking and other technology, check writing still has its place, evidenced by the 42 percent of respondents who pay bills specifically by check. Among those, a startling 80 percent of those check-writers do not use a gel pen, like the uni-ball 207.

Advice From A Victim

The survey findings, released in conjunction with uni-balls "Secure Your Signature" campaign and Octobers Crime Prevention Month, illustrate Americans need to make smarter choices when it comes to protecting sensitive information. Frank, once a victim herself, offers the following tips to help prevent individuals from becoming victims:

  -- Dont carry personal information you dont need.  Empty your wallet of
     all extra credit cards and other confidential information.  Do not
     carry any identifiers such as your birth certificate, social security
     card, or passport, unless necessary.
  -- Print wisely.  Dont print your Social Security number on your checks.
     Retailers do not need your SSN, but thieves do.  Also, do not print
     your full name on checks.  Instead, put your initials and last name on
     your checks.
  -- Limit account access.  Take precautions against illegitimate access to
     your bank accounts.  Write to your bank and ask them to notify you by
     phone or in writing if anyone requests your records. Place a unique
     password on your accounts.
  -- Choose credit over debit.  Its safer to use a credit card rather than
     a debit card. If your debit card number is used without your
     authorization, the money is immediately depleted from your bank
     account. If someone uses your credit card, you have the opportunity to
     dispute it before you pay it.
  -- Permanent Sign Off.  Use a uni-ball 207 gel pen when signing checks.
     The pens pigmented ink cannot be washed from checks or other important

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