Identity theft happens in an instant, but it can take years to recover from its consequences.
But protecting your identity and good name takes only a few minutes. Attorney General Roy Cooper has launched a statewide campaign to help consumers learn how to protect their identity and reputation from thieves.
North Carolinians who are already victims of ID theft will learn how to reclaim control over their finances and regain their good name, and the campaign will also reach those who have not yet become victims.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents polled in North Carolina said that they were more likely to take action to protect themselves from identity theft and telemarketing fraud after hearing more information about these crimes.
"Identity theft and telemarketing fraud are on the rise, and they're hurting North Carolina citizens and businesses," Cooper said. "These education and outreach efforts will alert people about how they can avoid these scams, and help victims learn how to reduce the impact to their good names and credit. Informed consumers will take action to protect themselves."
The consumer awareness campaign was prompted by the alarming fact that thousands of North Carolinians report being victims of identity theft each year.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, North Carolinians reported 15,595 cases of fraud and identity theft in 2005, at a cost to individuals of more than $11 million.
Estimates place the actual number of victims much higher, as many as approximately 300,000 in the state per year.
The highest concentration of fraud and identity theft reports in the state is in the Triangle and surrounding areas. Research shows that consumers are concerned about identity theft and telemarketing fraud, but many seem to be unclear about how to protect themselves.
The public awareness campaign emphasizes tips on how consumers can protect themselves by changing daily habits or making a simple phone call.
According to polling results, 69 percent of North Carolinians do not know that pre-approved credit card mailings can lead to identity theft and that many of these mailings can be stopped with one phone call. Only about half knew that they can request a free copy of their credit report to monitor potentially unauthorized access to their credit.
A television ad airing across the state touches on the stories of real identity theft victims in North Carolina to explain the costs associated with the crime -- financial security, precious time, poor credit and compromised reputation. For example, Ann thinks her Social Security number was hijacked in 1971. She can't own her own home. Creditors called her regularly.
"I was living a big life in about seven different states," says the North Carolina resident.
Frank got a call about a trip he hadn't planned and wasn't taking. After taking advantage of a free credit report offer, he found out that his identity had been stolen.
To hear more from these victims and learn from their experiences, viewers can visit the campaign's Web site at www. noscamnc.gov.
The Web site also includes simple ways consumers and businesses can stop thieves in their tracks, along with prevention tips and instructions for filing a complaint.
In addition, a set of radio and print ads directed at military personnel and veterans are designed to help them protect their identity by taking advantage of a new law that allows them to freeze their credit for free.
To complement the media and Internet campaign, Cooper is organizing a series of "Shred-a-Thons" across the state to offer free document shredding services and consumer education literature across the state.
The N.C. Department of Justice will partner with businesses, community organizations and the media to host and publicize these events this month and in October.
This campaign marks the latest attack against identity theft by Cooper, whose previous efforts to fight ID theft have been called a national model by the FTC.
Cooper and other experts from the Department of Justice speak to civic and community groups about identity theft and related frauds, including hosting a series of Scam Jams across the state focused on helping seniors.
Last year, Cooper helped put in place one of the most comprehensive laws in the country to protect North Carolinians from identity theft.
The Identity Theft Protection Act minimizes the use of Social Security numbers as identification numbers, restricts the sale and display of Social Security numbers, requires business as well as state and local government to better protect consumers' personal information, and gives consumers the right to protect themselves by placing a freeze on their credit.
Funding for the $1.5 million campaign comes from businesses and individuals who defrauded North Carolina consumers and have been ordered to pay for consumer education efforts, such as to inform North Carolinians about issues like identity theft and help them learn how to avoid becoming victims.
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