Dear PoPville – How to be on the look out for identity theft?

Photo by PoPville flickr user pablo.raw

“Dear PoPville,

Last Thursday, someone broke into my boyfriend’s apartment and made off with my laptop. Luckily, I have renter’s insurance and had just backed up my computer, so I will be able to replace the computer with little out of pocket pain and didn’t lose any of my data. And I already changed all my passwords, from online banking to gmail. However, my tax returns (complete with SSN) from the past several years are on the stolen computer and that’s why I’m asking for help.

Can you/lovely readers recommend anything I can do to be proactive about making sure no one is doing anything fishy with my social security number? I pulled my credit report right after it happened, so I have a snapshot of what my credit history looks like before any funny business happens but was hoping for some other proactive ways I could make sure I’ll be tipped off if anyone tries any funny business.

And yes, I’ll be sure to make those individual tax return documents password protected in the future.


Anyone ever use a monitoring service?

26 Comment

  • Contact each of the 3 credit agencies and ask them to monitor your accounts. They will notify you of any attempts to open new accounts, etc.

  • It might be worth getting credit monitoring for six months, but I’d say it’s 95% likely whoever stole your laptop erased the hard disk as soon as they got it so they could sell it “clean.” They obviously don’t want anything linking them back to the break in.

    • I think so too. My laptop was stolen during a burglary and I never saw evidence that someone had done anything with my personal info.

    • Yeah, I’m 95% sure of that, too, especially since they didn’t take anything other than electronics and cash that were all out in the open. But that 5% is enough to make a Nervous Nelly like me lose some sleep.

  • There are several services that, for a fee (usually about ~$10-15 per month) will monitor your credit files from all three credit bureaus and will notify you if there are any changes. The major credit bureaus themselves offer such services, as do a few other companies. I have never used one and do not have any experience with these, so I don’t have any basis to recommend one vs. another or using any of these vs. not; I’m just pointing out that they exist. Best of luck.

    p.s. I must admit that as of this moment one could also find all of my tax returns complete with SSN on one of my computers. I have been thinking for a while about only electronically saving scanned copies with some of the key information redacted. I am now thinking more seriously about this.

  • You can “freeze” your credit. No one, including you, can access your credit report until you unfreeze it. So no mortgages or new credit cards with this in place.

    It’s not easy and you should fully investigate advantages and disadvantages, but it might be a good way to buy yourself time to think.

    Hindsight is 20/20 and we all make mistakes. Some options for the future: software, redacting scanned documents, computer/browser passwords, not saving logins, and always locking your notebook to something. Annoying? Most definitely, but I worry less.

  • Don’t store PII data on laptops or PC’s.

    Bottom line.

    • Where are you supposed to store it, then?

      • External Hard drive or thumb drive in a more secure place.

        • I don’t see how that’s safer than a laptop. Unless you’re talking about storing all my tax returns on a hard drive in a safety deposit box, which hardly seems feasible.

          (Not trying to pick a fight here, just honestly curious what to do.)

          • I agree. In this situation maybe it would have helped (supposing the external HD was at home while the laptop was at her boyfriend’s) but if someone breaks into your house and both items are in your house they will steal both. They really go through every inch of space, even places you would never think to hide stuff like inside a mattress.

          • Well I am usually too lazy to do it myself, but that’s another issue…

            In a robbery or burglary, thieves are going for easy to grab, expensive items. Like a laptop. If you keep your personal data saved on a thumb drive in a discrete drawer, it’s not very likely it will be stolen.

            You could also password protect the thumb drive as well.

          • In my experience burglarers go through every single drawer in the house. Mine even opened the case of my desktop tower to see if there was anything good hiding inside.

            But I guess if there’s an alarm going off they might need to hurry and just grab the obvious things.

          • True, there are many instances where every nook and cranny is pilfered. In those circumstances, a safety deposit box, or some type of vault secured to the foundation in the basement are the only defenses. However, files stored on a well hidden thumb drive will leave you better chances than a shiny Macbook sitting on the couch.

          • you can store on an external hard drive the size of a thumb. then just store it somewhere safe. you’ll most likely only download once a year.

  • Contact all 3 credit bureaus to ask that they put an alert on your report and file a complaint with FTC.

    Sorry this happened to you! Good luck

  • That’s helpful.

  • Don’t pay anyone to monitor your report – that’s just a waste of money. Follow thomasrufus’ advice. It’s a bit of a pain, but much less painful than having someone steal your identity.

    • Amen to that advice: don’t pay a nickel to anyone in the credit-report “protection” racket.

      The simple fact is that the credit industry could put an end to “identity theft” as we know it, by implementing some simple, common-sense security. Like, say, not simply handing out credit lines to anyone who knows your social security number.

      Why don’t they do this? Why don’t I at least get a verification phone call (or letter, or SOMETHING) when someone claiming to be me tries to open a line of credit? Why can’t I even “opt-in” for free to such a system? Perhaps its because the credit industry profits are based on quick, easy, “impulse-buy” credit, and there’s no way, no how they’re going to do ANYTHING to make it even slightly less convenient for Americans to go into debt.

      The industry’s behavior on this issue has been nothing short of shameful. I didn’t ask the credit bureaus to collect my personal data, and I ain’t gonna pay them to keep it safe: that’s already their OBLIGATION.

  • I have credit monitoring potection through my AMEX card. I get notification whenever my credit is checked and a year-end report of my credit scores, accounts opened or closed, and credit activity. There may be a cheaper way to do this but in my opinion it’s worth the $12/month that I pay for the service.
    Gentle reminder – There are a lot easier ways for someone to get your SS# (and other information that can facilitate ID theft) than stealing your laptop or any other personal item on which your info is stored. So it’s never a bad idea to monitor your credit on a regular basis, as opposed to waiting for an event like this to do so.

  • Thanks for all the advice, everyone! I’ve spent the afternoon online and on the phone, getting back a little peace of mind.

  • austindc

    Have an identity that is not worth stealing. Works for me!

  • My computer was stolen and I also had my tax returns saved on it. I had the 3 credit bureaus put an alert on my report… nothing has happened since. They most likely wiped your computer clean and sold it, so I wouldn’t freak out about it too much. But it is good to be cautious just in case!

  • how about using password for the laptop, encrypting the harddrive, and encrypting the tax return files.

    especially if you have a laptop those are measures that should be taken. really not hard to set up.

    to say not to store this info on a laptop or PC makes no sense for personal users. just take the precautions … and those are protect the data use passwords and encryption. just as you would have firewall on and anti-virus.

  • you can notify the IRS and file an identity theft affidavit so they’ll be aware if someone uses your SSN to file taxes or something in the future:,,id=186436,00.html

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