Personal Finance

Money Matters: Tips for protecting investment accounts after a security breach

Q. I am a retired federal employee and although I have not heard yet from the Office of Personnel Management, I suspect my Social Security number, etc. was vacuumed up from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management by unknown intruders. Is there anything that should be done to protect a large brokerage account in my name? Can I ask that a hold be placed on my account preventing any changes? Anything you can suggest would be helpful to myself and others who suspect their information may have been compromised.

A. I suggest you contact your financial institutions (banks, brokerages etc.) and let them know of your situation. They should be able to “tag” your accounts with a compromised client alert. This isn’t a guarantee that your accounts won’t be violated but it will add another level of protection. You should also take the time to change your passwords to all of your accounts. I also suggest that you monitor your account activity by obtaining a credit report. If you are not in the middle of attaining any financing or opening new accounts, you could prevent new accounts from being open by freezing your credit. Here’s how to do both:

1) Anyone can obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. You can request a free credit report on-line at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. The three bureaus are: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

2) A security freeze can be placed on a credit report. To place a freeze, you will need: full name, address and or addresses over the last five years, social security number, date of birth and two items as proof of residence (copy of utility bill, driver’s license, bank statement etc.). Once a freeze is in place, the credit bureau won’t release information from that person’s credit file until or unless the freeze is lifted. This freeze is beneficial in stopping identity thieves from opening new accounts in their name but it will also prevent you from opening new accounts.

Once a security freeze is in place, a creditor asking to review your file before approving new credit will be unable to see the credit score and will treat the application as incomplete until the freeze is lifted. There is no time limit on a credit freeze, it will stay in effect until you decide to remove it. It can be removed temporarily by unfreezing and refreezing or it can be removed permanently. A person would want to unfreeze their credit report when applying for any new credit, taking out a loan or applying for a job which requires a credit check. Once a security freeze is in place you will receive a PIN number and instructions on how to lift the freeze.

If you want to lift the freeze you contact the credit bureaus. Even with a security freeze in place, creditors can still use information to offer pre-approved credit. You can stop these offers by either calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or going online at www.optputprescreen.com

For more information on this topic or assistance with identity theft, visit the Attorney General’s Office web site, www.ncdoj.com, or call 1-877-566-7226.

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