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Archive for Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Theft of veterans’ records calls for fraud alert

May 30, 2006

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Pat and Thomas Halberstadt take all the right steps to protect their identities.

Pat says she shreds documents before throwing them out. Actually, she shreds a document and then separates the shredded paper into different trash bags.

"If you want my (information), you have to work hard to get it," the Illinois resident said. "I'm a worrier so I would like to know I'm doing everything I can to protect my identity."

That's why when the Halberstadts heard that the Social Security numbers of more than 26 million veterans had been stolen, Pat began to panic. Her husband is a Vietnam veteran, having served as a sergeant in the Army.

The personal data on the veterans was taken home by a Department of Veterans Affairs analyst. The worker's computer, which contained the information, was stolen. The electronic file contained names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings.

"I'm scared to death about this identity thing," Pat Halberstadt said. "I feel helpless because I've read that it takes two years to clear anything like this up. I'm 59 years old. I'm not sure I have two years in me to fight this kind of thing. I hear it can ruin everything for you. I'm just so frightened."

No question identity theft is a growing problem.

"People whose information is stolen are not victims of identity theft," said Betsy Broder, assistant director for the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. "I'm concerned that some reports are saying this is the largest case of identity theft. No, it's the largest data breach. I'm not aware of any misuse of the veterans' information."

Broder said she was concerned that some veterans might close their credit card accounts or put a credit freeze on their accounts when it's not necessary.

Closing a credit card account could hurt your credit score, and that might mean you could pay more for a home or car loan.

While a credit or security freeze is definitely something you should consider if you are a victim of identity theft, you may not want to deal with the inconvenience if you don't have to.

A credit freeze prevents access to your credit report and credit score. If lenders or businesses can't get access to this information, they aren't likely to issue new credit. This of course, prevents a thief from opening credit in your name.

Obviously, a freeze not only makes it hard for a thief to get credit in your name, but you as well. For example, you will find it harder to take advantage of instant credit offers. To remove the freeze you may have to pay a fee or use a personal identification number (PIN) to get access to your credit files.

Seventeen states have credit freeze laws, according to Consumers Union. Kansas' law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Definitely, this data breach means millions of veterans have to become proactive in protecting their credit. What a shame this has happened to this group of folks. At a minimum, they should put a fraud alert on their credit reports.

To place a fraud alert, call the toll-free number of any one of the three major credit bureaus. You only need to make one telephone call because that agency will inform the other two. Here are the numbers you can call:

¢ TransUnion: (800) 680-7289.

¢ Equifax: (877) 576-5734.

¢ Experian: (888) 397-3742.

When you place a fraud alert, you'll receive information about ordering one free credit report from each of the companies even if you've already gotten your annual free reports.

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