Consumers Cautioned during National Protect Your Identity Week

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla–Identity theft has increased dramatically over the last decade affecting about 9 million Americans annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In an effort to fight identity theft Consolidated Credit is promoting National Protect Your Identity Week from Oct. 20 to 27th during National Crime Prevention Month.

Thieves are continuously finding new ways to gain access to an individual’s assets, including their checking and savings accounts, retirement funds and investments. When they are successful, they can gain personal information to obtain credit cards, open telephone accounts and even rent properties. Information can also be used to apply for federal benefits such as Social Security payments.

Despite the government’s effort to crack down on identity theft, this crime still damages the credit reports and finances of millions of people. Data from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that identity theft rose by 33 percent from 2005 to 2010. The data also reveals that credit card fraud is at the top of the list when it comes to identity theft and increased from roughly 3.6 million to 5.5 million during that same period.

Identity thieves are increasingly relying on technology to access credit card accounts and personal information. Consumers need to be alert and protect their finances as much as possible

Consumers tips for avoiding identity theft:

•Tear up convenience checks and pre-approved credit card offers, bills and documents with other personal information before throwing them out.

•Drop bills directly into U.S. Postal Service mailboxes. Avoid putting outgoing mail in your home mailbox.

•Avoid carrying your Social Security number and driver’s license together in your wallet.

•People who are nervous about fraud may want to consider putting a fraud alert on their credit files. With a fraud alert, a credit bureau must contact you before any new credit can be approved.

If you become a victim:

•Contact the three major credit bureaus. Equifax: (800) 525-6285; Experian: (888) 397-3742; and Trans Union: (800) 680-7289.

•Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Include a statement that asks creditors to call you for permission before any new accounts are opened in your name.

•Contact creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened without your knowledge. Be sure to put complaints in writing.

•Contact the FTC: (877) 438-4338. While federal investigators only tend to pursue larger, more sophisticated fraud cases, they do monitor identity theft crimes of all levels with the hope of discovering patterns and breaking up larger rings.

•Fill out a police report, and consider signing a written affidavit verifying that unauthorized transactions on your account are fraudulent. Keep the original police report and send copies to creditors and credit bureaus as proof of the crime.

•Check with the Postal Inspector to see if a change of address has been filed. Also notify them if you suspect the imposter has used the U.S. mail in their crime. For example, if they have mailed change of address notices or credit applications.

•Victims should contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to place a fraud alert on their driver’s license if they suspect it has been misused in any way. Victims should also contact the Social Security Administration if they think their social security number has been used fraudulently.

About: Consolidated Credit was founded in 1993 and is one of the nation’s largest credit counseling organizations. They have helped over 5 million people with financial issues. Their mission is to assist families throughout the United States in ending financial crisis and solving money management problems through education and professional counseling.