NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials are alerting New Yorkers to the dangers of identity theft.

Councilman Dan Garodnick and other lawmakers are offering tips to consumers on how to stay safe online as part of National Protect Your Identity Week.

Garodnick said there are 9 million Americans who are victims of identity theft each year.

“No matter how careful you are it is shocking how easily your identity can be stolen,” Garodnick told 1010 WINS. “It’s even more surprising that you could be unaware of this problem for months while somebody is out there racking up debt in your name and taking advantage of you.”

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, chair of the State Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee, said the state has passed new laws to address the issue and continues to combat the problem as cases of identity theft reach epidemic proportions.

Officials are urging consumers to be vigilant and take extra precautions when making purchases and providing personal information over the Internet.

“In this day and age, cyber criminals can easily attack an individual from thousands of miles away if necessary precautions aren’t taken,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

“We want to encourage New Yorkers to be their own best advocates and their own best defenders against these types of fraud so that they don’t find themselves in a worse position than they ever expected,” Garodnick said.

To stay safe online and protect your identity, follow these tips:

— Be Wary of E-mails from Strangers
— Shop With Trusted Merchants
— Do Not Use Public Computers or Wireless for Transactions
— Use Secure Website Browsers (“https://”)
— Pay By Credit Card Instead of Debit
— Watch Out for Account Update Scams
— Update Your Anti-Virus Software
— Ignore Pop up Messages
— Keep a Paper Trail
— Wipe Your Computer Clean Before Recycling It

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of online fraud can call the Manhattan District Attorney’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft hotline at 212-335-9600, or call 311 to make an appointment for free financial counseling at one of the City’s Financial Empowerment Centers.

Do you feel safe when shopping online? Let us know below.

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