National Consumer Protection Week Announcement # 8:
Division of Consumer Affairs Offers Guidance on
How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
NEWARK - To empower the public during National Consumer Protection Week, the State Division of Consumer Affairs today offers information on how consumers can protect themselves against identity theft, which remains the most common Internet crime in New Jersey.
"We are here to help consumers push back against criminals who seek to profit by stealing the personal information and ruining the credit of hard-working New Jersey citizens. People can protect themselves by carefully checking their bills and credit statements, refusing to give out personal information, and staying in touch with their banks and creditors," Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs, said.
Identity theft was the most common Internet crime reported last year in New Jersey, according to the 2010 Internet Crime Report issued by the joint FBI/National White Collar Crime Center's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The 2010 report noted some 2,300 identity theft complaints from New Jersey, with a median loss of $740 per complaint.
Fortunately, consumers can take basic steps to protect themselves, such as:
- Regular self-protection
- In a safe place, keep a list of all your account numbers, credit card numbers with expiration dates, and the phone numbers of your creditors.
- Carefully review your bank statements and bills. Contact the sender immediately if you see unauthorized activity. Contact the creditors if your usual bills don't arrive on time.
- Do not reply to email notices that request personal or account information – even if they look legitimate and professional. Don't call any phone numbers or click any web links on an unfamiliar email; instead, find the correct phone number or web address yourself.
- Do not give personal or account information over the phone to telemarketers. If you wish to donate to a charity or make a purchase, ask them to send you a bill or invoice.
- Do not give your credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the call and have a trusting relationship with the company you have called.
- When making a purchase or donation over the Internet, provide your credit card number only after you have established that the website is a valid one that is controlled and maintained by a company you trust. Review the company's privacy statements to learn how it uses your personal information.
- Shred all mail that has personal or account information before disposing. This includes pre-approved credit offers that arrive by mail.
- Check your credit report. Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers may request a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once every 12 months. Consumers may visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to receive a copy of their credit reports.
- If your wallet, credit cards, or checks are stolen:
- Cancel your credit and debit cards if they are stolen.
- Report the theft to police where the incident happened.
- If your driver's license was stolen, contact the Motor Vehicle Commission. Find out how to replace your license, and alert the MVC that someone may attempt to use your identification.
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus* and file a fraud alert. Fraud alerts usually last 90 days. They let vendors know you may be a victim of identity theft, and that they should verify your identity before issuing any new credit in your name.
- If you become a victim of identity theft:
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus* and file for extended fraud-alert protection. This protection lasts up to seven years. To obtain an extended fraud alert, you must provide the credit bureaus with a valid police report showing that you have been a victim of identity theft.
- Review your credit reports periodically and report any suspicious activity to the credit reporting bureaus.
- Consider initiating a security freeze on your credit report. This will block potential creditors from accessing your credit information, which will make it difficult for identity thieves to open new credit cards or obtain new loans in your name. To do this, you must contact each of the three credit bureaus* separately. However, if you need to have your credit checked in order to open a new bank account or for other purposes, you would need to call all three credit bureaus in order to lift the credit freeze in advance.
* The three credit bureaus are:
For more information from the State Division of Consumer Affairs:
NATIONAL CONSUMER PROTECTION WEEK (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. NCPW 2011 takes place March 6 through 12, 2011.
More information designed to help consumers protect themselves is offered free of charge at the State Division of Consumer Affairs NCPW website at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov. Information is also available at the official National Consumer Awareness Week website, www.NCPW.gov.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.