|December 9, 2005
Media Contact: Jenn Meale
Phone: (850) 245-0150
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TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist today advised Floridians to be careful when using credit and debit cards to pay for gifts during this holiday shopping season in order to avoid becoming victims of identity theft. Crist, who yesterday convened the state's second annual Identity Theft Summit in Tampa, said unsuspecting holiday shoppers create inviting targets for ID thieves.
Crist advised consumers to be careful when reaching into their wallet to pay for gift purchases, to make sure no one is lurking to steal a credit card number. At the same time, he said, the crowds and turmoil at shopping centers makes it vitally important that parents also keep a close eye on small children.
"When holiday shopping, it is easy to become distracted while looking for the perfect gift and the best bargain," said Crist. "Hectic shopping malls can be a breeding ground for ripoff artists and other criminals, and Floridians should take steps to protect themselves, their loved ones and their personal information."
Crist said the holiday season is the best time for the Identity Theft Summit, which brought together officials from law enforcement, the retail industry, banking and other sectors to discuss ways to reduce ID theft in Florida. The Attorney General's Fraud Hotline has received some 3,400 calls concerning identity theft since it was instituted in 2003. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a total of 38,325 Floridians filed fraud or identity theft complaints in 2004, and almost one-third of the 16,062 identity theft complaints concerned credit card fraud.
Crist offered the following suggestions for Floridians to avoid identity theft while shopping:
When Making Purchases at Retail Stores
- Don't take out credit cards before you get to the register. This will allow you to control the number of people who see the information on your cards and will reduce the chance of misplacing them. Protect your credit numbers from the people around you.
- Beware of others who have cell phones in their hands but are not making calls. Clever thieves are using cell phones to take photographs or videos of credit cards or personal information.
- Carry only the credit or debit cards your plan to use for holiday purchases. If your wallet or purse is stolen, fewer accounts will be affected.
When Making Purchases with the Internet and Cell Phones
- Make online purchases through secure websites from companies you trust.
- If someone claiming to be a representative of your bank or lending institution, or a business with which you have an established account, asks you to provide account information over the internet, do not do so. This is not a legitimate request for information but is instead a scam called "phishing." Legitimate banks and business entities already have that information and do not need to ask you for it.
- Keep your billing information private and avoid sharing it via cell phone, especially in a location where a stranger could overhear and write down the information.
Handling the Documentation of Credit and Purchases
- Take all receipts with you so that no one else picks them up. If you throw away your receipts, tear them up first.
- Look at credit card statements carefully to check for charges you did not make. Contact the credit card company right away if you find any problems.
In an Emergency
- If you are a victim of identity theft, report to the police and then ask the national credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Tell banks and creditors involved that you question the charges or accounts. Keep records of telephone calls and follow up in writing with credit bureaus, banks and creditors.
- Victims may call the Attorney General's Fraud Hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226). They may also visit the Attorney General's website at http://myfloridalegal.com.