February 3, 2005
Jefferson City, Mo. — Identity theft can cost victims thousands of dollars and take years to correct. Consumers can minimize the risk of identity theft, however, and take fast action to contain any harm if an identity thief strikes, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon says.
Nixon's advice to Missourians on how to prevent identity theft is part of his efforts to mark the seventh annual National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), Feb. 6-12. Nixon and the Attorneys General of the other states are teaming up with several federal, state and local agencies to promote consumer education under the 2005 NCPW theme of "Identity Theft: When Fact Becomes Fiction."
"Protecting your personal information is a key step to keep someone from misusing your identity," Nixon says. "By keeping close track of your credit information, safeguarding your billfold, and keeping passwords secret, you can minimize your risk of identity theft."
Nixon says identity thieves can get your personal information through several methods, including stealing your wallet or purse; stealing your mail, or completing a "change of address form" without your knowledge; rummaging through your trash at home or at a business, a practice known as "dumpster diving," to obtain pre-approved credit card offers and other documents; or using personal information they find on the Internet about you.
"One of the best pieces of crime-fighting equipment everyone can have at home is an inexpensive paper shredder to dispose of those unwanted credit card offers or documents that you don't need but contain sensitive information," Nixon says.
Other steps consumers can take to fight identity theft include:
"And while it may seem elementary, don't write down your password and tape it to the front of your computer monitor at home or at work," Nixon says.
More tips on preventing identity theft can found in the Attorney General's publication Know Your Rights.
Some of the warning signs of identity theft include failing to receive bills or other mail; receiving credit cards for which you didn't apply; being denied credit for no apparent reason; and getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn't buy. If you believe your personal information has been stolen, Nixon says you should:
The Federal Trade Commission reported that identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints it received in 2004. The FTC says it received more than 246,000 complaints about identity theft last year, but the agency estimates that more than 27 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years.
Organizers of this year's NCPW are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Information Center (FCIC), the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA), the California Office of Privacy Protection, the Ohio Attorney General's Office, the National Consumers League (NCL), AARP, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Call for Action, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.