Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

Feburary 4, 2002 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. has joined federal, state and local organizations in launching the fourth annual National Consumer Protection Week, Feb. 3-9, 2002, helping consumers take precautions against the misuse of their personal information.

"As personal information becomes more accessible on the Internet and elsewhere, the potential for its misuse increases," said Curran.

One of the most devastating abuses of personal information is identity theft, which occurs when someone steals personal identifying informationĖsuch as a Social Security number, birth date or motherís maiden nameĖto open new charge accounts, order merchandise or borrow money. Consumers often do not know they have been victimized until collection agencies pursue them to collect accounts they did not even know they had, or they are denied credit because of unpaid debts run up by the criminals.

A more common outcome of personal information being accessed, shared or sold is an increase in solicitations from telemarketers, direct mailers and e-mail spammers.

The Attorney General offers several tips on how to protect the privacy of personal information in this monthís issue of his Consumerís Edge newsletter, including:

Limit the amount of personal information you disclose. When filling out forms or making a purchase, give only information that is necessary. If you donít understand why the information is needed, ask.

Protect your Social Security number. Donít carry your Social Security card in your wallet, and donít print the number on your checks.

Donít leave personal information where others can see it. At home, be cautious about where you leave personal information such as bank statements, particularly if you have roommates, employees in the home, or are having service work done to your home. (more)

Donít disclose personal information to strangers on the phone. Many scams involve callers who say they represent your bank or credit card issuer and need to "verify" your account information.

Be careful with your trash and your mail, which identity thieves may go through or steal in order to find sensitive information.

Exercise your right to "opt-out" in the privacy policies of your financial institutions.

Request no sharing with third parties. Whenever you order a magazine, buy something from a mail order company or an online company, or donate to a charity, tell them you donít want them to share your name and address with other businesses or charities.

Be cautious about revealing sensitive information online.

Read the privacy policy of Web sites you visit. Before signing up for "members only" access, or entering information about yourself, read the privacy policy. If the policy says the site may share your information with other businesses, or if there is no privacy policy, consider whether youíre willing to have information the site collects about you shared or sold.

Once a year, order a copy of your credit report. This is a good way to check that no one is using your identity to get credit. Maryland residents are entitled to one free copy per year from the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax 1-800-685-1111, Experian 1-888-397-3742; and Trans Union 1-800-888-4213 (all toll-free numbers).

Click here to view the Consumerís Edge and a pamphlet, "Protecting Your Privacy".