February 7, 2005
CURRAN OFFERS TIPS TO REDUCE RISK OF IDENTITY THEFT;
NATIONAL CONSUMER PROTECTION WEEK FEB. 6-12
General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. has joined a group of federal,
state and local agencies and national advocacy organizations
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.
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:
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.
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
your credit report at least once a year to check for any signs
of fraudulent activity.
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.
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.
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