Each year, more than 16 million Americans experience at least one instance of identity theft. The annual cost due to identity theft totals tens of millions of dollars. 

Consumer credit cards (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Lawsuits involving cases of identity theft are becoming more frequent.

"Data breaches are happening pretty frequently so we want to make sure people take the steps they need to take to protect their information," said Steve Lee, the acting director for the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.

It is important to secure your social security card to protect yourself, Lee said.

"Consumers should be aware of where their social security number is going, and they should just protect their social security card and their information as much as possible," Lee said.

When making online purchases, it is important for consumers to read reviews for companies with which they may not be familiar. Lee also advises checking credit reports frequently.

"After you have made purchases, check your credit card bills, check your credit report, make sure no one is improperly using your information" Lee said.

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs offers the following tips to protect against identity theft:

1. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or call (877) 483-4338;

2. File a report with your local police department, and bring the police a copy of you FTC Affidavit;

3. Obtain a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies - Equifax Credit Information Services, Experian and Trans Union - and ask that all of your accounts be flagged with a fraud alert.

4. Keep a close eye of the activity of your credit or debit cards;

5. Contact all credit card companies, creditors, banks, and any financial institutions with which you do business. Close all affected cards. and change all passwords on the accounts;

6. Contact the United States Social Security Administration or call 800-269-0271;

7. Keep very detailed records;

8. You can also contact nongovernmental nonprofit groups like the Identity Theft Resource Center for assistance.

"Our message today, and our message at the division is not a message of fear - folks shouldn't be scared to make online purchases, they shouldn't be scared to buy things online, they just need to be careful," Lee said. "They need to protect their personal information,  monitor their bills, and monitor their credit. If they do those things, even if the consumer becomes a victim of identity theft, they can stop it in its tracks."