News Release

New Jersey Department of
Banking and Insurance
Commissioner Holly C. Bakke

For Immediate Release: December 17, 2004

For Further Information:: Marshall McKnight - (609) 292-5064

Teaching Seniors How to Prevent Identity Theft

EAST ORANGE – The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance is committed to educating seniors on how to protect themselves from identity theft. That was the message Department staff in coordination with Senator Nia H. Gill delivered to more than 50 people yesterday at The Pavilion, a senior citizen housing complex in East Orange.

Identity theft is the fraudulent use of a person’s name and identifying data and occurs when that personal information is stolen and used for someone else's financial gain. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), New Jersey ranks among the top 20 states in identity theft reports. Identity thieves may use another person’s name, address and financial data to open bank accounts or obtain credit, merchandise or services.

“Identity theft is a nationwide problem. The State of New Jersey is playing an important role in teaching seniors and consumers of all ages about identity theft prevention,” said Acting Governor Richard J. Codey.

“New Jersey residents need to be aware of their credit activity. They also need to be aware that they are entitled to one free copy of their credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies,” said Senator Gill. “Don’t request those reports at the same time. Get one every four months.”

“When someone gains access to your personal identifying information, they can obtain fraudulent credit accounts, create fraudulent insurance claims and rob your retirement savings,” Commissioner Holly C. Bakke said. “This can make it difficult for consumers to secure a loan or buy a home.”

James Lavery, a Department community educator, taught East Orange seniors how to avoid identity theft, what to do if they believe they are a victim of identity theft and how to maintain control of their credit reporting. Lavery cautioned consumers not to carry extra credit cards, their social security card and other identification documents such as a passport or birth certificate, unless absolutely necessary.

Since 1998, Lavery and other Department educators have traveled from High Point to Cape May and Rockleigh to Salem teaching citizens about preventing identity theft. Program participants learn how to obtain their free credit reports, how to avoid getting pre-screened credit card offers and how to remove their names from mailing and telephone lists.

“Our identity theft programs serve as practical guides for consumers of all ages,” said Lavery. “This information is especially important to seniors who are vulnerable to identity thieves.”

Earlier this year, the Department unveiled the Consumer Credit Bill of Rights. This bill provides for additional consumer rights to complement existing rights contained in New Jersey's Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). New Jersey is the first state to issue this type of measure.

The federal government reports that identity theft is now the fastest-growing financial crime. Nearly 10 million Americans were victimized last year, resulting in $5 billion in individual losses and $45 billion in corporate and banking losses.

Consumers may use the following tips to protect themselves from identity theft:

If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft:

“Our Department is committed to helping consumers protect their hard-earned money,” said Commissioner Bakke.

For more tips, precautions and general information on identity theft, visit the Department’s web site.

Department educators have trained insurance company executives, law enforcement officials, business people, high school students and civic group members on various insurance industry related issues. Over the years, the Department has branched out into other programs such as general consumer awareness for seniors and identity theft.

“The number of requests for our education programs has grown rapidly,” said Commissioner Bakke. “Over the last six years, the Department has presented more than 1,300 programs to more than 65,000 people.”