Friday, April 4, 2008

STOLEN LAPTOP: Protect your ID

Acting quickly is key when it comes to identity theft prevention, and you're right to have taken the first step already, which is to change every password you can think of. If you have a copy of your bookmarks file (hopefully you've made a backup), go through and systematically change every login password on the list. Remember it's not just banks and email accounts that will need the update, but also shopping sites like eBay and and even social networking sites, too. Remember that a crook won't need your actual password to get into any of these places if you've used "remember me" on the site or have used your browser's or a toolbar's auto-fill features to automatically fill in passwords for you. One click could be all it takes to order thousands of dollars of merchandise on your behalf. It's also a good idea to go through your old credit card statements and make sure that you've gotten every website you've done business with in the last six to 12 months.

Your next step should be to cancel and replace your credit cards, at least any that you've ever used online. Even if you think you've changed all your login passwords, chances are you've missed one. Getting a new credit card takes minutes and is pretty much foolproof protection.

Next: Add a fraud alert message to your credit report, which can help protect you in case someone tries to open a new account under your name. (A fraud alert still lets you open new accounts, but it requires extra steps from the creditor in verifying you are who you say you are. An initial security alert stays on your account for 90 days; you later also file an extended alert (for seven years) if you are victimized. Numbers for calling each credit agency are found at the bottom of this post. Note that you may need a current copy of your credit report in order to file the alert.

Now that things have died down, file a police report and get a copy of it (critical if you're filing an insurance claim). Since this is a break-in, your local police department is the place to call. The FTC, which handles many computer crimes, probably won't get involved unless you're actually a victim of identity theft. (If you are, visit this site.) Hopefully, if you've followed all these instructions, that won't be the case!

Finally, keep an eye on Craigslist and eBay for your laptop. You'd be shocked how many stolen laptops are unloaded here, and often very quickly. If you see a listing that matches your machine (especially if you can verify for sure that it really is yours), alert the authorities and see if they can't help you recover it. Good luck.

Credit agency phone numbers:
Experian: 800-493-1058
Equifax: 866-640-2273
TransUnion: 800-916-8800

Happiness and Success!

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