NEWARK – As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that the Division has developed a new Cyber Security Handbook, as well as a new Debt Collection Handbook and Understanding Debt Collection Video, as new tools in the Division’s commitment to empower consumers with the information and awareness necessary to protect themselves against fraud.
“As aggressive and unflagging as we are in our role of enforcing the laws that protect New Jersey’s consumers against fraud and abusive practices, we are just as committed to help consumers protect themselves through education and awareness,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “These new resources supplement the growing library of consumer awareness materials the Division of Consumer Affairs makes available on its website, as well as the very dynamic presentations our Consumer Awareness team holds throughout the year for thousands of New Jerseyans.”
The Cyber Security Handbook includes information on protecting everything that is potentially exposed to the Internet. This includes computers, smartphones, and other devices; personal information and privacy; and consumers’ own personal safety as well as that of their families. The covered topics include “phishing” and “social engineering” – common strategies by which computer criminals seek to convince victims to unwittingly open themselves up to identity theft; protection against malware; protecting one’s personal information when using web browsers and mobile devices; and awareness about online predators and cyber bullying.
The Debt Collection Handbook (also available in Spanish) and Understanding Debt Collection Video include important information for any consumers who owe money, or who have been contacted by a debt collector about money the consumer does not believe he or she actually owes. The bottom-line advice is that, if a debt is legitimate, the consumer must pay it. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers by prohibiting debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices. The Division’s creation of the Understanding Debt Collection Video was funded by a grant from the Sears Consumer Protection and Education Fund.
“The new booklets and the new video provide practical information that every consumer can use for self-protection,” Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “These topics are particularly relevant today, as more and more individuals and families rely on the Internet to make purchases, and many also face the possibility of outstanding debt issues.”
Both booklets serve as companions to the FedUp Handbook (also available in Spanish) which provides a wealth of information on avoiding common scams, consumer tips when purchasing a car or hiring a contractor, awareness about investment and securities fraud, and other topics.
Attorney General Chiesa noted that identity theft is considered the fastest-growing financial crime, and identity thieves often steal their victims’ personal data through computer-based methods such as phishing or by infecting victims’ computers with spyware.
Online privacy is another growing concern. The Division of Consumer Affairs in June 2012 filed its first-ever lawsuit under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) against a Los Angeles-based developer of children’s apps for devices such as the iPhone and iPad. The State alleged that the company’s educational apps violated COPPA by collecting personal information from its young users, then transmitting that information to a third party without parental notification or consent. In its settlement with the State, the company agreed to cease such practices, and to ensure the destruction of all data that had been provided to third parties.
The Division of Consumer Affairs received 304 consumer complaints about debt collection in 2012, making debt collection the seventh-largest consumer complaint category for the year. The Division refers all such complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The booklets and video are available on the Division’s website. The video and related information are also presented as part of the Division’s series of consumer awareness events. The Division’s Consumer Awareness conducted more than 153 seminars and similar events in 2012, reaching a total of approximately 35,000 consumers in person and via teleconference.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of marketplace abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.