Three tips for you to steer clear of fraud and identity theft

Illinois-based American Mobile Shredding and Recycling worker Ken Greifelt arranges boxes of shredded documents in the company's mobile document shredding truck, Melrose Park, outside St. Ignatius College Prep school June 3, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

HARTFORD — This week is National Consumer Protection Week and consumers are urged to block an hour off their calendars to do three easy tasks that can help them steer clear of fraud and identity theft, and prepare them in the case they need to file a consumer complaint.

Shred Documents
Consumers should take time to shred documents they no longer need, in particular tax related and health care related materials, to protect themselves from identity theft. A list of recommendations regarding how long to keep specific documents can be found here.

Organize Important Paperwork
Many consumers may have a stack of contracts they’ve signed, that include information about warranties or guarantees associated with large purchases or subscriptions. Whether you have your paperwork stored in a file folder, or cataloged in your email, it’s important to keep your records.

If you ever need to file a consumer complaint, or have reason to believe your contract is not being fulfilled, your chance of recovering your money is much better if you have your paperwork.

Secure Your Online Passwords
Today it’s a necessity to have accounts online, but consumers need to make sure they have secure passwords, and don’t use the same passwords for more than one account. Take time to make sure you have good passwords that are stored in a safe place, and if you can, enable two-step verification for your online accounts for an added layer of security.

“The keys to protecting ourselves are education and knowing our rights,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau Executive Communications Director, Howard Schwartz. “We have to be more vigilant than ever before, and National Consumer Protection Week is all about understanding these issues, protecting ourselves and our families, and knowing our rights when there is a problem.”

“This week is a great opportunity for consumers to take a few minutes to protect themselves, learn more about the market, and start to create the habits that will allow them to be smart consumers all year round,” said Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan A. Harris, “We’re excited about the information we’ll be able to highlight for Connecticut consumers and businesses next week, and for the progress we can continue to make together in the future.”

The Connecticut Better Business Bureau also said consumers looking for a quick way to lose weight could lose much more – they could put their good health at risk.

The weight loss industry is a lucrative one. According to an estimate from Marketdata Enterprises, Americans spend a staggering $60 billion annually trying to lose weight. The country’s obesity epidemic is providing a potentially larger customer base for health clubs, diet plans and diet supplements.

Consumers who have had little or no success losing weight with the traditional approach often turn to alternative weight loss methods. They include prepared meal programs, protein bars, shakes, diet books and weight loss supplements.

“Consumers don’t have to look very hard to find an ad for a product that makes exaggerated claims about its effectiveness and typical weight loss results,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. “Ads for weight loss supplements may make unrealistic promises, and some ads are illustrated with faked “before and after” photos. Some sellers even set up fake news sites to peddle their products.”

Do any weight loss supplements work? None has been proven to live up to its promises. Regulators say the industry is fraught with misinformation. In the last decade, the FDA has brought more than 80 actions against companies making deceptive weight loss claims.

The FDA is not charged with regulating the supplements, however, some of the pills, capsules and powders have been pulled off the market because they were tied to problems such as increased risk of heart attack, stroke, hepatitis, jaundice, heart damage and lung disease.

Consumers can encounter different problems with health clubs and gyms, including difficulties canceling contracts, unauthorized billing and the sudden closure of an exercise facility.

“We always encourage consumers to read the fine print before committing to any contract, especially when it has to do with their health,” says Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) spokesperson Lora Rae Anderson. “Weight loss deals and health club contracts can be confusing, so it’s important for consumers to get their questions answered before they sign on the dotted line.”