News Release

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

For Immediate Release: January 5, 2005

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

Consumers of All Ages Need to Protect Their Identities

MONROE – The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance is continuing to educate consumers on how to protect themselves from identity theft. That was the message Department staff in coordination with the Women’s Club of Encore Monroe delivered to more than 60 people yesterday at the clubhouse of Encore Monroe, an adult community in Monroe Township. The Department made similar presentations to nearly 14,000 people throughout the state in 2004.

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.

“Losing control of your financial identity is devastating. The State of New Jersey is taking the lead in teaching seniors and consumers of all ages how to protect themselves from the growing problem of identity theft,” said Acting Governor Richard J. Codey.

“When someone gains access to your personal identifying information, they can obtain fraudulent credit accounts, apply for jobs in your name and harm your credit rating,” Commissioner Holly C. Bakke said. “This can make it difficult for consumers to secure a loan, buy a home or even get a telephone.”

Jan Allen, a Department community educator, taught Monroe seniors how to avoid identity theft, what to do if they believe that they are victims of identity theft and how to maintain control of their credit reporting. Allen 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.

“It’s a big problem and we’re here to help you,” Allen told seniors. “But the first step is protecting yourselves. You need to be very careful.”

Since 1998, Allen and other Department educators have statewide teaching citizens about preventing identity theft. Program participants learn how to avoid getting pre-screened credit card offers, how to remove their names from mailing and telephone lists and how to obtain their free credit reports. While the rest of the country is just beginning to receive free credit reports, they have been available to New Jersey residents since 2001.

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:

“It is important to spread out your three free requests, one from each agency, so that you monitor your credit activity throughout the year,” said Commissioner Bakke. “Our Department is committed to helping consumers protect their hard-earned money. Tracking your credit history is an important step toward protecting yourself from identity theft.”

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.

“Requests for our education programs have grown rapidly,” said Commissioner Bakke. “Over the last seven years, the Department has presented more than 1,500 programs to more than 78,000 people.”

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