How can I protect myself from a data breach?

October 24, 2011 20:25 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I have tried to do everything I can to protect myself from identity theft.  But what can I do about data breaches?

Consumer Ed says: 

A data breach occurs when sensitive or confidential data (e.g. bank or credit card account numbers, Social Security Numbers, medical records, driver’s license numbers) is stolen, copied, viewed or used by an unauthorized person.  The perpetrator could be an employee, a partner or an external person, such as a computer hacker.  The threat of a data breach is quite serious, but fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to detect and prevent misuse of your information in the event that a data breach does occur.

First and most importantly, take the time to review your credit card and bank statements each month to make sure there aren’t any fraudulent charges on your account.  If there is a suspicious charge or one you do not recognize, contact the financial institution immediately and report it.  Ask them to close any accounts that you know or suspect were compromised and ask for replacement cards with new account numbers and PINs. Find out if there have been any unusual requests such as change-of-address or requests for additional or replacement credit cards. Instruct the card issuer not to honor any requests regarding your card without your written authorization. 

Under the Georgia Personal Identity Protection Act, certain companies are required to notify all Georgia residents who may be affected by a data breach. However, there may be a delay in notification while law enforcement investigates the data breach, while the scope of the breach is determined, or while the system’s security is restored.

If you discover that you have been the victim of identity theft, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – and place a security freeze on your account. With a freeze in place, the information in your credit report will not be released to anyone, thereby making it almost impossible for an identity thief to open a new credit account in your name. Note that you will need to temporarily lift the freeze (by providing a password) if you yourself wish to apply for a new loan or credit card. 

You should also report the identity theft to the police, as you may need to provide a copy of the police report to your bank, creditors and credit reporting agencies.

To ensure that an identity thief has not opened up a new account in your name, you should review your credit report. To obtain a free copy of your credit report, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. If there are any accounts on your credit report that you did not open, contact the credit bureau to report the fraud and dispute the charges.

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Credit card company wants copy of Social Security card

February 17, 2011 22:42 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I recently applied for a credit card for the first time. Although I entered my social security number on the application, I received a request from the credit card company for a copy of my actual social security card. Is this normal? Is this safe?

Consumer Ed says:

This is a troubling question.  In these times of rampant identity theft, it is very valid for a credit issuer to try to determine that you are, in fact, the person you say you are.  However, we discussed this scenario with the Georgia Department of Banking of Finance and several Georgia banks. All of them said they could see no valid reason that you should be asked to provide your actual social security card.  So, while the request may well be legitimate, it seems outside of normal practices.

Before completing this credit card application, make sure you are dealing with a reputable company.  For example, is it a major bank? If so, you might want to go into one of their branches to apply for a card, so you can show them your identification in person.  If that is not possible, you could call and speak to a manager of the company. Explain that you are not comfortable with sending a copy of your social security card and ask if they can process your application without it.  If you have never heard of the financial institution in question, you might want to think twice before providing them with personal identifying information.

 

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Difference between credit freeze and fraud alert

November 4, 2010 08:10 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I lost my wallet last week. I have cancelled all of my credit cards and got a new driver’s license, but I am still worried about the possibility of someone stealing my identity.  Someone suggested that I should file a fraud alert or do a credit freeze.  What exactly are they, and which one should I use?

Consumer Ed says:

A fraud alert and a credit freeze are both ways of preventing an identity thief from opening up a new credit account in your name.  Fraud alerts are generally used in situations like yours – loss of a wallet or a credit card – or when someone has noticed suspicious activity on their credit card bills or credit report. A fraud alert is free and will remain on your credit report for 90 days. With an initial fraud alert in place, potential creditors are supposed to take steps to verify that any request for new credit in your name was authorized by you.  However, those steps may not always alert them that you are not, in fact, the applicant, and new credit may be extended despite the fact that you filed the initial alert.

If you have actually been a victim of identity theft, you can go one step further and file an extended fraud alert.  Extended fraud alerts, (which are also free of charge), stay on your credit report for seven years.  If you have filed an extended fraud alert, a potential creditor must actually talk with you or meet with you before extending new credit.

To place an initial or extended fraud alert on your credit report, contact ONE of the three credit reporting agencies listed below. That credit bureau is required by law to contact the other two bureaus, which will in turn place the alert on their versions of your credit report. 

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com

Experian: 1-888- 397-3742; www.experian.com 

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com

A credit freeze is considered more fool-proof than a fraud alert.  When you freeze your credit, potential creditors will not even be able to see your credit report unless you grant them access by temporarily lifting the freeze.  For Georgians, there is a $3 charge per credit bureau to freeze or unfreeze your credit. However, if you have been the victim of identity theft or are 65 years or older there is no charge for freezing your credit.  You must contact all three of the credit-reporting agencies listed above to effectively freeze access to your credit.

If you discover that you are a victim of identity theft, there are five things that you should do immediately:

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports;
  • Get copies of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, and review them carefully; 
  • Close any accounts that were opened fraudulently or that have been tampered with;
  • File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft occurred; and
  • File an identity theft report with each of the three credit reporting agencies.

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