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"Following revelations that WSU has admitted to the theft of a partly-unencrypted laptop placing up to one million students and others at risk of new account identity theft due to the inclusion of Social Security Numbers and other personal information, we urge the WSU victims and all Washington residents to place credit, or security, freezes on all three of your credit reports. Only the security freeze, available in any state, stops most new account identity theft. Potential victims should freeze all of their “Big 3” credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. This PIRG report explains the security freeze in detail.
A security freeze prevents your credit report from being shared with potential new creditors. If your credit files are frozen, a thief will probably not be able to get credit in your name. While freezes are not free, except to seniors and identity theft victims, they offer peace-of-mind that thieves cannot use your Social Security Number to open new accounts in your name, since most creditors require a credit report to open a new account. Attorney General Bob Ferguson explains free fraud alerts under federal law and security freezes here and explains the Washington security freeze law and procedures here.
We also warn that after a widely-publicized theft such as this, the incidence of "phishing" emails and phone calls increases, including from enterprising thieves who do not have the stolen laptop or any information from it. Phishing contacts are attempts to gain additional information that could be used to commit identity theft. Do not click on email links. Do not give personal information on phone calls you do not initiate, including those purportedly from your bank. If you are concerned the calls indicate you may be a victim, simply hang up and call the number printed on your bank card or statement.
We also advise all Washington residents that virtually no consumer advocate recommends paid credit monitoring. Any victim should not pay to extend the "ProtectMyID" product at the end of the free year being offered by WSU. Instead, since federal law requires each of the three national credit bureaus to provide a free credit report annually (online, phone, mail access explained here by the U.S. FTC), victims and any other Washington resident should "stagger" one free credit report request every 3-4 months to obtain "free" credit monitoring."
WashPIRG is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization that stands up to powerful special interests. www.washpirg.org.
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