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For Immediate Release
February 7, 2005
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

CURRAN OFFERS TIPS TO REDUCE RISK OF IDENTITY THEFT; NATIONAL CONSUMER PROTECTION WEEK FEB. 6-12

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. has joined a group of federal, state and local agencies and national advocacy organizations to launch the seventh annual National Consumer Protection Week, Feb, 6-12. This year’s theme is identity theft and how consumers can minimize their risk of becoming a victim.

“ Everyone should know how to protect their personal information,” Curran said. “Keeping track of your credit, safeguarding your wallet, shredding sensitive documents or credit offers before discarding them, and using safeguards while using the Internet are ways you can lessen your risk of identity theft.”

A 2003 survey conducted for the Federal Trade Commission estimated that 12 percent of American adults had been the victim of some form of identity theft in the previous five years. Identity theft can include “account takeover,” in which a thief makes unauthorized charges to a consumer’s existing credit account, or the more damaging type of identity theft in which the a thief uses a consumer’s name and personal information to open new credit accounts, buy a car, rent an apartment, or even commit a crime or declare bankruptcy.

People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years cleaning up the mess the thief made of their good name and credit record. Some victims have lost job opportunities, been refused loans for education, housing or cars, or even been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.

The National Consumer Protection Week website, www.consumer.gov/ncpw, has a quiz consumers can take to determine their risk of becoming an identity theft victim, plus more tips on prevention, including:

• Protect your mail. Thieves steal from mailboxes to find information contained in credit card or bank statements. Use a locked mailbox for incoming mail, if possible, and drop outgoing mail containing personal information in a post office collection box or at the post office.

• Shred papers with sensitive information and credit card offers before putting them in your trash.

• Avoid identity theft on the Internet. Never provide bank account information or your Social Security number in response to an unsolicited e-mail. When conducting transactions over the Internet, choose to do business with reputable companies and look for signs that transactions are protected through secure transmissions. Frequently update the security patches offered by your computer’s operating system and software vendors to thwart hackers.

• Monitor your bank account statements and credit card bills. Report any unauthorized withdrawals or charges immediately. Also, if a statement or bill doesn’t arrive on time, contact your financial institution. A thief could have stolen your mail, or changed your mailing address in order to misuse your account

• Order your credit report at least once a year to check for any signs of fraudulent activity.

• Speak up if you think a business or employer is not safeguarding sensitive information. Identity theft is often committed by persons who obtain access to personal information in the workplace.

Curran said that consumers who discover someone has been misusing their personal information should immediately act to prevent further damage to their finances:


• Contact creditors (for example, credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks and other lenders) to close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with the security or fraud department.

• Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, 800-525-6285; Experian, 888-397-3742; TransUnion, 800-680-7249) to place a fraud alert on your credit report, which may prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.

• File a report with your local police and get a copy of it in case the creditors, credit bureaus or others need proof of the crime.

Curran’s office has a pamphlet: “Identity Theft: What to Do If It Happens to You”; call 410-576-6500 to get a free copy or view online at www.oag.state.md.us/consumer/idtheft.htm. The Federal Trade Commission has a booklet “ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name,” and a fraud affidavit form that makes it easy to file a fraud report with multiple creditors. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP or find them online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Organizers of this year’s National Consumer Protection Week are the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Information Center, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, the California Office of Privacy Protection, the National Consumers League, AARP, the Better Business Bureau, Call for Action, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Identity Theft Resource Center, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


 

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