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The threat of online public records
Your personal information may appear in online public records -- yet another avenue for identity theft.
Protecting your identity

Risks of online public records

If the Web site hosting your information refuses to take down your SSN, Van Dyke suggests getting an attorney to write a stern letter to the business. "You can get things like that done relatively cheaply, I believe, and that would probably get the site's attention pretty fast."

If you find your whole Social Security number online, Stephens advises taking some steps to safeguard your identity. "The typical precaution that I would recommend for somebody in that situation, at a minimum, is to place a fraud alert on their credit reports and of course monitor their credit reports regularly. If they want to be super, super cautious, they can place a security freeze on their credit reports, bearing in mind that will give them the ultimate in protection, but it also comes with a little bit of inconvenience."

Fraud alerts don't prevent new creditors from checking a person's credit report or score; the notation instructs creditors to take additional steps to verify the applicant's identity before granting credit.

Credit freezes prevent the release of the credit report and score to all entities that do no have a permissible purpose to obtain them.

Initial fraud alerts don't cost a thing to set and last 90 days. Credit freezes won't expire in most states until the consumer requests its removal. But each credit reporting agency will charge a fee every time you place a freeze, lift or permanently remove it. ID theft victims generally can place, lift and remove freezes for free.

Some states may allow truncated Social Security numbers to appear in online public records. Usually, this means that only the last four digits are viewable. Stephens says truncated SSNs prove less worrisome than complete numbers, but because the last four digits are the "most specific to the individual," ID thieves can still figure out the range of numbers for the rest of the identifier if they know enough about the person.

-- Posted: April 21, 2008
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