Attorney General Jon Bruning warns consumers identity theft remains a very real threat and they must take steps to keep from becoming a victim.
“Once cyber thieves have a consumer’s information, it can be shared or sold worldwide. It can be used to withdraw funds from accounts, assume identities, fraudulently claim benefits. Sometimes consumers don’t know their information has been compromised until significant damage has been done,” Bruning said during a news conference in his Capitol office. “Identity thieves can rob you your money, your good name, and your peace of mind.”
Victims of identity theft spent a total of $5 billion last year to clear their names and restore their credit. The average victim of identity theft spent $4,600 to clean up the mess left behind by thieves who stole their identity to gain access to their financial information.
Bruning invited guests to highlight some of the problems facing consumers during the news conference held at the beginning of National Consumer Protection Week.
Better Business Bureau President Jim Hegarty said law enforcement has found rooting out ID theft to be very difficult. Thieves often operate off-shore, away from American law enforcement.
“The absolute message here that we keep trying to pound home to consumers in Nebraska is that it is all about prevention and it’s all about understanding what you can do to be a more informed consumer, to be on guard, and to take care of your own business,” Hegarty said.
A few steps can make a big difference. Always be careful when transacting business online. Change passwords periodically. Don’t use the same password for multiple online transactions. Review financial statements often. Never use a public computer to buy things online.
Data breaches have become a popular way for thieves to gain access to financial information, the data breach at Target during the Christmas shopping season being a prime example.
In 2013, 800 million financial records were breached, half in the United States.
Hegarty advises consumers to monitor their various accounts often, always looking for anything unusual. Report suspicious activity immediately.
While cyber-attacks grab the headlines, the old rip offs remain.
US Postal Inspector Tom Harding said notices that you have won some sweepstake or a lottery in another country sent in the mail remain popular among con men.
“The bottom line and the message that I want to send to you is foreign lotteries and fraudulent sweepstakes aren’t just risky propositions. They may also be illegal and most likely are. An educated public is the first line of defense,” according to Harding.
He said mail fraud often targets older Americans.
Each year, consumers are entitled to one free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) through www.annualcreditreport.com.
For more information on these and other consumer issues visit http://www.ago.ne.gov/ or http://www.bbb.org/council/bbb-scam-stopper/ or call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-727-6432. Mail fraud complaints can also be filed at www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov.