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.” Texas ranked 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. According to the FTC, Houston ranked fifth among cities with filed complaints. Two other Texas metro areas – Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio – were also in the FTC’s top ten. 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 were victimized by ID theft. To underscore the importance of preventing ID theft, free shredding services will be provided to the public on Saturday, May 28, at four locations around the Houston area. A document disposal company will make shredding trucks available from 9 a.m. to noon at the following sites:
• Greenspoint Mall, I-45 North at Beltway 8 and Sam Houston Tollway
• Northwest Mall, 9930 Hempstead Rd.
• Almeda Mall, 555 Almeda Mall
• Sugar Land Medical Center, 15300 Southwest Freeway
At a news conference to announce the campaign, Attorney General Abbott was joined by Scott Brecher of Houston. Mr. Brecher, 35, said he has become more diligent about shredding documents with his personal information since finding out he was a victim of ID theft. Mr. Brecher, a portfolio manager, received a call in 2002 from a credit card company saying he was delinquent on $10,000 in credit card charges. He told the company the card was not his and he had never authorized anyone to open up an account in his name. Mr. Brecher immediately ordered copies of his credit report and found the card in question was just one of three credit cards that had been taken out in his name by identity thieves. In all, identity thieves spent $17,000 using the cards. “They essentially hijacked my file and they were creating addresses for me and my address was no longer on my credit file,” he said. Mr. Brecher, who will be featured on some of the “Shred It!” billboards, warned others about the kinds of documents that should be shredded. “If you throw away a pre-approved credit card, that opens the door for somebody to steal your identity,” he said. “If you’ve thrown away a medical bill or anything with a Social Security number, you’re exposing yourself.” 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.oag.state.tx.us 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 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.