Tuesday, May 17, 2005

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Attorney General Abbott Urges Texans To Shred Documents Containing Personal Information

ABILENE - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today urged Texans to protect themselves from identity theft by shredding any documents with personal information before disposing of them. The announcement kicked off “Shred It!”, a statewide public awareness campaign to educate consumers about the threat of ID theft and what can be done to prevent it.

“Identity thieves are not above digging through our trash for bank statements, receipts and other papers to get our personal information,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Shredding documents containing Social Security numbers, credit card information and other personal data is an important way Texans can protect themselves.”

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Texas ranks second in the nation with 26,000 identity theft complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission in 2004 – double what it was just two years earlier. Three metro areas – Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Baytown and San Antonio – were in the FTC’s top ten cities for filed complaints. In addition, a 2005 report by the Better Business Bureau revealed the vast majority of ID theft is perpetrated by stealing physical documents through mail tampering or digging through someone’s trash.

The “Shred It!” campaign will use public awareness events, consumer alerts and other specially developed materials to provide consumer tips on safeguarding and safely disposing of personal documents. The Attorney General is also launching a statewide “Shred It!” billboard campaign featuring Texans who fell victim to ID theft.

Free shredding services were provided by a document disposal company to attendees of the Abilene Senior Jamboree, where Attorney General Abbott delivered his remarks. Document shredding will also be available free to the public on May 18 at the Mall of Abilene, 4310 Buffalo Gap Road, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or until the shredding truck is filled, whichever comes first.

At a news conference to announce the campaign, Attorney General Abbott was joined by Cindy Brown of Abilene. Mrs. Brown, a second grade teacher, said she began shredding personal documents after identity thieves used her personal information to buy a $30,000 sport utility vehicle and open four cell phone accounts and a line of credit with a computer company. She also was contacted by an insurance company in early March concerning what it said was her application for life insurance.

“I told them I had not applied,” Mrs. Brown said. “The insurance company had my name, Social Security number and birth date, but someone else’s address.”

The experience also prompted Mrs. Brown to take other precautions, including no longer putting outgoing mail in her home mailbox and being more cautious about disclosing her Social Security number.

Attorney General Abbott also offered several other tips to help prevent ID theft, including:

• Safeguard all types of personal information, such as credit cards, Social Security numbers, financial and medical records, personal identification numbers and receipts.
• Read all bills, statements and records carefully to check for unauthorized activity.
• Periodically obtain and review a credit report, especially before applying for credit.
• Never respond to suspicious e-mails or telephone calls requesting your personal information.

Consumers who need additional information on preventing ID theft can visit the Attorney General’s Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call (800) 252-8011.

Attorney General Abbott also supports legislation authored by State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored by State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, that would help in the fight against ID theft. SB 122 would give the Attorney General more authority to file suit in ID theft cases, including seeking penalties of up to $50,000 per violation. The measure would require businesses to implement and exercise reasonable procedures to safeguard identifying their clients’ information.

The bill would also require entities to notify Texans whose sensitive personal information was – or was reasonably believed to be – acquired by an unauthorized person. In addition, ID theft victims could get incident reports from police departments and sheriff's offices they could then use to clear their names with credit bureaus and creditors.