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January 28, 2014

LITTLE ROCK – As recent data breaches at major retailers have demonstrated, the theft of personal information is a headache for everyone affected and a significant, long-term issue for some. Consumers who are victims of identity theft or financial fraud can face years of problems related to the crimes.

Just as technological advances have made the day-to-day tasks of talking to friends and paying bills more simple and convenient for consumers, it’s now easier than ever for criminals to steal information. Consumers can put up a few roadblocks, though, by taking precautions to limit the data they share and by making financial transactions securely.

Data Privacy Day is observed annually on Jan. 28. Accordingly, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this special consumer alert to offer advice to Arkansans about how to keep their personal information out of the hands of identity thieves.

“The data breaches at Target and other retailers have made us all more aware of the damaging impact of having our confidential personal and financial information fall into the wrong hands,” McDaniel said. “That is why it is so important for all of us to be cautious about how we share information, who we share it with, and how it is used.”

The Attorney General provided these tips to consumers for protecting their personal data both offline and online:

  • Keep records in a safe place at home or at work, and limit what is carried in a wallet or purse. Do not keep a Social Security card in a wallet or purse, and carry only the identification, credit and debit cards that are necessary.
  • Shred items like receipts, checks, credit card statements, bank statements and credit applications as soon as possible, when they are no longer needed.
  • Do not provide personal or financial information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet before first knowing that the request for information is legitimate. If in doubt, visit a company’s official website or ask for a customer service phone number and call the requestor back.
  • Use encryption features on wireless routers in order to protect personal information like account logins and passwords. Be sure to use a secure browser when making online purchases. Secure browsers feature a “lock” icon in the status bar or URL that starts with “https.”
  • Assume that anybody can see anything sent over a public wireless network, so use caution when surfing the Internet at public wireless “hot spots.”
  • Avoid oversharing on social networking sites. The more information on a site, the more likely an identity thief can answer the “challenge” questions on other accounts to gain access to confidential data. Limit access on social networks to trusted friends and family.
  • Download mobile apps from reputable developers. Some apps may access information such as email contacts, location data, phone logs and text records. Consumers should know who created an app and what it does before installing it.

The National Cyber Security Alliance offers more information about Data Privacy Day and online security at www.staysafeonline.org. The Federal Trade Commission also has a variety of resources available for consumers who want to protect themselves against identity theft. Visit www.ftc.gov.

In addition, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website features tips, tools and resources related to a wide range of consumer topics. Visit the website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 482-8982.