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Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2007

Security freeze can prevent fraud

February 15, 2007

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Here we go again. The Department of Veterans Affairs has disclosed that information on more than half a million individuals and about 1.3 million non-VA physicians - both living and deceased - is missing or may have been stolen. The information had been stored on a portable hard drive that was being used by a VA employee at the department's facility in Birmingham, Ala.

The VA said it would notify individuals whose sensitive information may have been on the hard drive and will make arrangements to provide one year of free credit monitoring to those whose information proves "compromised."

In information breach cases, offering potential victims free credit monitoring is the least the company or government agency can do.

For about a year, my husband and I paid $99 for credit monitoring. Eventually we canceled the monitoring service. Although we were never notified of any problems, we realized that if there ever were fraudulent accounts, we wouldn't know about them until after they were opened. By that time the damage already would be done.

A much better way to deter thieves from grabbing your good credit name is a "security freeze," which blocks access to your credit reports and credit scores. A security freeze typically costs $10 per credit file in the 26 states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws allowing it, including Kansas.

You can lift it temporarily when you need a lender to view your files. Or you can lift it for a specific creditor. In most cases, you'll have to pay a fee to temporarily lift the freeze, generally another $10.

The Federal Trade Commission has a Web site on identity theft with a slogan that says "Deter, Detect and Defend." (To find the site, go to www.ftc.gov and look for the link to "Avoid ID Theft.")

If you're in the market for credit quite a bit, the cost of getting a security freeze lifted can add up. Then again, knowing that a criminal will have great difficulty opening credit in your name is a priceless defense.

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