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Topics addressed on June 14, 2006:
Veterans Affairs data theft
I put a fraud alert on my credit report very recently because of the Veterans Affairs data breach. I panicked and didn't fully understand what the alert does. I need to get a car loan. Now I may be turned down because I was trying to protect myself from others. Why don't the credit reporting agencies have a special alert for veterans as a result of the recent circumstances?
Unfortunately, there have been numerous data breaches, but the stolen Veterans Affairs computer theft has received a tremendous amount of attention. Experian has included special information for affected Veterans on its Web site and automated telephone system.
Ironically, the first piece of advice I offer to anyone whose information may have been stolen is to stay calm and not panic. In the Veterans Affairs situation, a computer containing identifying information was stolen, but to my knowledge, no identity theft has yet occurred. It is highly likely that in a home robbery, the thief was simply looking for items that could be sold. It is quite possible that the computer itself, and not the data it contained, was what the thief wanted.
Further, with all of the legislative attention to this case, a criminal would have to be really desperate to try to commit identity theft with the information now. Every law enforcement agency in the country would be tracking him down.
Sadly, the fact is that illegal access to data is occurring almost daily, and it is affecting almost all of us, so every consumer should know what to do. The credit reporting companies have many services to help you through the prevention and recovery process. Those services apply to every consumer, regardless of how their information was exposed.
Your first step was the right one. Veterans, and other consumers, may contact any one of the three national credit reporting companies online or by automated phone system to immediately add a temporary security alert to their credit report.
Your request will be shared with the other two companies, and each will offer you the opportunity to obtain a free report. The alert will remain for 90 days, giving you time to review your report for any signs of fraudulent activity and will be deleted automatically.
While the alert is present, all creditors will know to verify your identity before opening a new account in your name. It should not prevent you from getting the auto loan, although it might delay the process while the lender verifies your identity.
If you find evidence of victimization, you should file a police report. With a copy of that report, you can add a victim statement to your credit history that will remain for seven years. With a valid identity theft report, Experian can suppress fraudulent account information for you immediately, even though the creditor may still be performing their fraud investigation.
Again, the three credit reporting agencies will share your request for the victim statement and the suppression. The victim statement can be a real nuisance when you want new credit, but for true victims, it is worth any inconvenience.
The industry has come a long way in its services to victims. Victims still have the onerous tasks of filing police reports and filling out affidavits for the fraudulent accounts, plus the emotional stress of the unknown consequences. But, in today’s credit environment, credit card companies are using many tools to help prevent theft and victims have many more services to help them with a quick recovery.
The credit reporting companies have streamlined victim assistance process and work in close partnership so that you need to contact only one of them to initiate fraud alerts and the recovery process at all three. Electronic dispute processing greatly speeds removal of fraudulent information typically to days or even hours.
New credit monitoring services are available to alert you almost instantly to new activity in your credit report, enabling you to take immediate action when your identifying information is used fraudulently in attempts to open new credit accounts.
Experian also is working behind the scenes with lenders and other businesses to stop fraud. Experian provides tools to businesses that alert them when application information indicates increased fraud risk, or is associated with known fraudulent activity.
Those alerts make it possible for businesses to stop the transaction and further verify the applicant’s identity before granting credit. Our goal is to help businesses prevent identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts.
If we can do that, you won’t have to worry about the damage identity theft can cause to your credit history or the sometimes frustrating recovery process resulting from new accounts being opened after previous fraudulent accounts have been removed.
Thanks for asking.
- The "Ask Experian" team