Friday, November 11, 2011

What to do if your personal information is stolen

There are many ways your personal information could be stolen. Hackers break in to computer systems, thieves snatch laptops, disgruntled employees pilfer information. If you believe that your social security number or other personal information has been revealed to someone who may use it to impersonate you, here are key steps to take:

  • Contact the fraud department of one of the credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. When you ask for a fraud alert from one bureau, it will notify the other two, says the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. A fraud alert tells companies to take additional steps to confirm your identity before issuing credit.

  • Get a copy of your credit reports.  After establishing a fraud alert, you will get a letter from the credit bureaus explaining how to get free copies of your credit reports. You can request that the reports show only the last four digits of your social security number

  • Once you get your credit reports, look them over carefully for accounts that aren’t yours and other evidence of identity theft.  If someone is trying to open accounts using your name, each attempt will be shown on your credit reports.  Close accounts that are not yours.

  • Consider asking the credit bureaus for a security freeze. This prevents anyone from getting credit in your name. This can be inconvenient, though, since you will have to get the freeze lifted if you want to apply for new credit. There may be a fee for the freeze.

  • If the breach involves your credit card or bank accounts, monitor those accounts closely, checking online for unusual activity – every day if possible. Contact the company if your account statement doesn’t arrive in time – someone may have changed the address on the account. 

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