• Jeff Fox: Gas prices just keep climbing

  • My records indicate I paid $3.01.9 for gas on Jan. 26. Of course, that was at Hy-Vee, and I’m still trying to get the hang of their buy-five-of-this and get-a-nickel-off-gas program, so who knows? Maybe I bought hamburger that day.

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  • My records indicate I paid $3.01.9 for gas on Jan. 26. Of course, that was at Hy-Vee, and I’m still trying to get the hang of their buy-five-of-this and get-a-nickel-off-gas program, so who knows? Maybe I bought hamburger that day.
    Still, I think programs like that might get a lot more popular if gasoline prices keep doing what they’ve done lately.
    The prices posted at www.missourigasprices.com detail what we already know: In Missouri, we’re paying close to 50 cents a gallon more for gasoline than we were a month ago, though still noticeably less than the national average. And the trend is solidly toward rising prices, the website says.
    As of Tuesday, the average price in Missouri was $3.43.7 – a little higher on the totally unofficial Noland Road index – compared with $3.58.1 nationwide.
    In Missouri, that’s a little higher than the $3.40.7 average a week ago and 14 percent higher than the $3.012 a month ago. Still, it’s worse elsewhere. The U.S. average was $3.50.7 a week ago and $3.26.4 a month ago.
    Winter is usually a time of relatively low gas prices. A year ago, in Missouri were paying $3.31.3 – so we’re up a little less than 4 percent – and nationwide the average was $3.474.
    Kansas City on Tuesday was not far off the national average, at $3.51, a little disquieting for those of us long-used to a bit of a steady discount. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the roughly dime-a-gallon difference on the two sides of the state line, due in large part to the fact that Kansans tax themselves for gas at a rate 7.7 cents a gallon higher than Missourians do.
    It could be worse. Try $4.17.4 in Los Angeles, $3.99.7 in New York, $3.96.1 in Chicago and $4.19.1 in Honolulu, which always seems to top the list. Cheapest? Try Billings, Mont., where it’s $3.06.6 – about where we were a few weeks ago.
    Mind your data
    Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s visit to Kansas City on Tuesday served as a good reminder about the ever-present danger of identity theft and some of things we all can do – should do – to prevent problems.
    “This case ... points out the importance of regularly checking your own credit report,” Koster said at a Kansas City news conference at which he announced the 17-count indictment of a man who ran a used car company in Blue Springs and then Independence and is accused to using customers’ personal information fraudulently to make close to half a million dollars. It’s believed to be the largest identity-theft case in state history, and the man, 25-year-old Terry L. Morrow Jr., is looking at possibly life in prison if convicted.
    So what do you do?
    For starters, Koster said, check that credit report. That’s how this case came to the attention of authorities.
    Page 2 of 2 - You’re entitled to one free credit report a year from the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. That report will tell you about any credit accounts opened in your name, how you pay your bills, if you’ve been sued or arrested, if you’ve filed for bankruptcy.
    Koster’s office – at http://ago.mo.gov/publications/idtheft.htm – has other suggestions:
    • Look over your bills closely for unauthorized charges or unexpected account statements. If a bill is late, call and ask why.
    • Get a paper shredder and use it to destroy old documents with personal information. Sometimes credit unions and others will offer free shredding days to their members (be reasonable – don’t bring a truckload).
    • Be careful online. Use a secure connection when sending credit card numbers and other sensitive information. That means the website’s URL should begin with “https,” not the more common “http.” The “s” is for secure.
    Change your passwords every couple of months, and use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, plus numbers and symbols, to make them hard to crack. Don’t use things such as your mother’s maiden name, your birthday, the last four digits of your Social Security number or anything else that readily identifies you. Have a good firewall and good virus protection, and keep those up to date. The attorney general’s office suggests not downloading files or clicking links from unknown sources and even unplugging from the Internet when it’s not in use.
    • Don’t carry your Social Security card with you. Don’t write the number on checks. If you’re asked to use that number for an account, ask the company if you can use a different identifier. Store your Social Security card and other important documents in a secure place.
    And one more thing: You can stop the flow of those pre-approved credit card offers by calling 888-567-8688 or going to www.optoutprescreen.com.
    Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @FoxEJC.

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