Consumer Protection Week Targets Privacy

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The theme of the fourth annual National Consumer Protection Week, Feb. 3-9, will be "Consumer Confidential: The Privacy Story."


"Advances in computer technology have made it possible for detailed information about people to be compiled and shared more easily than ever, enabling Americans to enjoy better access to credit and financial services, shopping choices and educational resources," said J. Howard Beales, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But as personal information becomes more accessible, the potential for its misuse increases."


Beales said identity theft is one of the biggest problems.


"Consumers targeted by identity thieves usually do not know they have been victimized until collection agencies pursue them to pay accounts they did not even know they had, or they are denied credit because of unpaid debts run up by the criminals," he said.


Organizers of this year's Consumer Protection Week are the FTC, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, the National Consumers League, the AARP, the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Federation of America, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the National Association of Attorneys General and the Federal Consumer Information Center.


During the week, representative groups will provide consumers with tips on how to avoid identity theft, recognize fraudulent telemarketers and spot fraudulent e-mail or deceptive mailings.


The FTC, for example, is sending outreach materials about Consumer Protection Week to organizations, including information about ways to promote the week. Consumers and businesses also can obtain this information on a Web site, www.consumer.gov/ncpw, that went live last week. The FTC administers the Web site, though the Consumer Protection Week steering committee controls and approves content.


Organizers said all organizations are encouraged to participate in the campaign. The FTC said direct mailers could do things such as put a statement stuffer in a gas or electric bill that discusses their privacy policy.


The postal service's Office of Consumer Advocate also will partner with the Postal Inspection Service to educate consumers about deceptive mailings and provide them with tools to recognize those mailings. They are asking postmasters to sponsor local activities during the week.


The USPS is focusing on these types of deceptive mailings: Bogus employment opportunities, medical quackery, phony charitable solicitations, work-at-home mailings, prizes or sweepstakes, domestic or foreign lotteries, and other mail-fraud schemes, including identify theft, chain letters, insurance fraud or false billing.


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