Recently, Heather Thompson, a woman who lives in Fargo, N.D. received a letter from public housing informing her that she was at risk for identity theft resulting from a data breach of the Department Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).
The Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority director, Lynn Fundingsland, had been informed about the letters but had initially thought it was a scam. After inquiring with colleagues in Washington, they were confirmed to be accurate. Almost 600,000 residents were affected.
For some, the leak consisted of last names and only partial social security numbers; however, for those who worked for employers that sought HUD tax credits, the leaked information also included full social security numbers and addresses. Having your social security number exposed is the worst thing that can happen in a data breach because the information that can be accessed with your social security number can be used to then file for false tax returns and other nefarious purposes.
Speaking to a local news station in Fargo, Thompson expressed her frustration -"[y]ou can't trust anybody...nobody,” and we can all relate. One of the more insidious aspects of identity theft and data security is that we’re vulnerable from so many sources. It’s one thing when a small retailer gets hacked, but when federal institutions become vulnerable, we feel an increased loss of control over our own finances and identities.
Now more than ever, it is important to know how to properly fix the problem when it happens to you. Closely monitoring your credit is the most effective way to protect your finances, and there some steps you can take effectively do this:
- Obtain your credit reports once a year from the three big credit agencies (Equifax, Experien, Transunion). This can be requested free of charge. One suggestion is to request a report from a different agency every four months, this will allow you to monitor it more frequently throughout the year. Also Sign up with the free services of www.creditkarma.com and www.creditseasame.com - they provide your credit reports and credit scores for free.
- If you suspect that you’re a victim of a data breach, you can activate a fraud alert through the credit agencies. Often times companies will offer free credit monitoring in the wake of a breach, but most states do not require this action. Further, it’s not evident to what extent that these offerings help the consumer, so you need to take matters into your hands and be proactive.
As always, if you have any questions about protecting your information, please contact us.