18 wheels of identity-theft protection

A big rig outfitted with online security software rolls through Costa Mesa to help computer users avoid identity theft.Computers may make life easier for things such as paying bills online and keeping in touch with friends. But computers also make it easy for crooks to steal your identity online.

That in mind, the tech tank -- a bright yellow big rig filled with information on how to protect against online identity theft -- rolled into Costa Mesa on Thursday.

"A lot of people know this threat is out there, but they don't think they're at risk," tour manager David Stufflebeam said.

Staples and Symantec, the maker of the Norton Antivirus software, sponsor the tech tank. The truck and its team just embarked on a 24-city tour from Arizona to Northern California. The truck is filled with workstations, each one featuring a different product to protect computers.

Anytime a computer user enters personal information online, downloads programs or music, or even uses e-mail, they open themselves up to identity theft, Stufflebeam said.

Using the computer's identification address, hackers can track and access information.

If there is no protective software, such as a firewall, a knowledgeable hacker can rip off a Social Security number, name and birth date -- all that's needed to steal someone's identity, Stufflebeam said.

But identity theft isn't limited to computers. The same information can be stolen over the phone or from important papers thrown in the trash, police said.

It's a fast-growing crime and a concern among law enforcement agencies, said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Bill Hartford.

Unfortunately, by the time victims report the crime to police most of the damage has already been done, Hartford said.

"The best defense ... is individuals taking responsibility for their personal information," Hartford said.

To avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, people are encouraged to regularly check their credit, review credit card statements and to shred important documents, Hartford said.

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