FRUIT HEIGHTS -- When Eric Fisher left his Fruit Heights home for sunny Cedar City, he had no idea someone had obtained his Social Security number.
When he started college at Southern Utah University in 2003, he tried opening a utilities account for his new apartment. But he was surprised to find out someone in Ogden had stolen his identity and started utilities with it, he said.
"What else are they using it for?" Fisher asked. "We immediately went out to check if my credit had been ruined before I had a chance to build any."
Fisher and his family panicked for two days as they waited for the credit report to come back. Whoever used his identity -- the family never found out -- had paid all the utility bills on time, so Fisher's credit was fine, he said.
But "it was definitely scary at first", he said.
"I was very shocked that that information was accessible," said his mother Julie Fisher, a state representative from Fruit Heights.
She knows identity theft can end much worse than with a bad credit score. "Some people get thousands of dollars of debt because someone is using their (identity)," she said.
Federal and state agencies, including the Utah Attorney General's Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Trade Commission and local law enforcement, want residents to know they do not have to become a victim of identity theft.
And they have a lot of advice on how people can protect themselves.
* Leave no trace of your personal or financial information, said Weber County Sheriff's Detective Dewain Sorenson, who investigates fraud. Burn or shred mail, financial papers, receipts, shipping slips and bills with your personal information on them.
* Do not leave sensitive personal or financial information inside your car at night if it is parked outside, said Roy Police Sgt. Kevin Smith. Opportunistic thieves may steal Social Security cards or other information, especially if the car is left unlocked, he said.
A Social Security number is only nine digits -- keeping it in your head is safer than your wallet, Smith said.
* "Check your credit at least once a year with all three credit bureaus," Sorenson said. You can order free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com. Carefully review them. You should also carefully review credit card and bank statements for any unauthorized charges at least once a month, he said.
* The IRS and FTC warn people not to be fooled, since it can be impossible to distinguish what is legitimate and what is fake online.
Many scams trying to get your bank account information are carried out through email, said IRS spokesman Bill Brunson.
* If anyone is concerned an email, phone call or letter is a scam, they should ignore it and call the government agency or financial institution that purportedly is seeking the information.
If you suspect someone may have stolen your identity, state and national agencies provide several guidelines on what to do:
* Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and close any account that you suspect has been tampered with or fraudulently opened.
* File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and with local law enforcement.
* Save your physical bank records for at least one year at a time; you will need them to prove your account balance in the event someone steals your identity, according to the FTC.