11/09/06 — Attorney General shares ways to stop ID theft

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Attorney General shares ways to stop ID theft

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 9, 2006 1:45 PM

Scam artists have never had more ways to prey on people, officials said Wednesday, and the public needs to be aware of the many ways they can be tricked out of their money.

About 100 people gathered at the Wayne Center to attend Scam Jam, a presentation by state and local authorities explaining the dangers of fraud and identity theft.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper was the keynote speaker.

Cooper said identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation. More than 3,000 North Carolinians have been victims of identity theft alone, he said. Not only have they had money stolen, he said, they often have their credit rating affected and in many cases, their reputations damaged.

He explained a number of ways residents can protect themselves from identity theft.

When someone receives a pre-approved credit card, Cooper said, they usually just toss the envelope in the trash. But a thief could dig through the trash, take the application, fill out another address and begin ruining the victim's credit.

Cooper said victims have told him they have received credit card bills they were unaware of applying for and even bills for new cars and other items. By the time that person receives those indicators in the mail, thousands of dollars could have already been spent in that person's name.

To help prevent the possibility of identify theft, Cooper said people should cut up or shred unwanted credit cards. They also need to regularly check their credit status. As soon as an unknown charge appears, North Carolina law allows residents to place a security or credit freeze on their account, he said. Information on how to request a security freeze is available at www.noscamnc.gov.

Residents can even stop pre-approved credit cards from being sent to them in the mail by opting out of sharing non-public personal information or credit report information with other businesses. That service is available by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT, or 1-888-567-8688.

Identity thieves will even remove letters from unsecured mailboxes to find someone's personal information. Cooper said people can prevent themselves from becoming a victim this way by personally taking their mail to a post office mailbox.

Attendees also learned about the dangers of investment fraud from John Maron, investment education coordinator with the Secretary of State's office. Deputy State Treasurer Kenneth Wilkins spoke about frauds involving unclaimed properties. Other speakers described scams that involved bogus sweepstakes winnings or other prizes that required the victim to put up money before claiming his winnings. Residents should consider such offers suspicious, experts said. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to such scams, as well as scams involving supposed Medicare payments, said Stephanie Bias, N.C. Department of Insurance Medicare lookout coordinator.

Cooper said his office has been pushing for tougher laws with tougher penalties for violators. State law now requires businesses and government offices to shred personal documents before being discarded. Also, financial companies and other businesses must notify customers of security breaches that could release personal financial information.

But the prevention of identity theft crimes begins with the public, Cooper said.

"I need you to be the missionaries and to go out and spread the word," Cooper said.