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So remember when you send that job application to the Federal Government? Or when you had health insurance from Blue Cross? Or that time when… well… you know? Or really, just pick any reason out of a hat.

Basically, what I’m saying is that there are two types of people in this world:

1) Those who have had their identities stolen.
2) Those who don’t know their identity has been stolen.

Now, assuming that an organization discovers the breach in a timely manner and discloses the news responsibly, you’re in luck because you’ll get a year or two of free credit monitoring.

Hooray?

First off, if you’re getting credit monitoring for free, there’s no reason not to use it. But if you just want to check your credit from time to time, you don’t need to pay a dime. By law, the big three credit reporting bureaus must provide you with 1 free credit report per year and you can get those at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Some credit monitoring services don’t monitor all the big three bureaus. But even if they cover all four, they can’t prevent the damage to your credit caused by thieves trying to open new accounts in your name. You can, however, protect yourself by reporting fraud to the bureaus directly.

You can place a fraud alert, for free, on your record for 90 days. You’ll need to do this once per bureau but you can repeat this as often as you like every 90 days. Use the links below:

If you don’t want to deal with re-requesting a fraud alert every 90 days, you can request a security freeze instead. For a fee (usually $10), you can place an indefinite block on credit inquiries. When an inquiry does need to be made (say, you apply for a new loan or open up a new credit account), you will pay a fee (again, usually around $10) to temporarily lift the freeze.

Brian Krebs has a great write-up on the process and this site does a good job of summarizing your rights under various state laws. If you’re still interested, you can request a credit freeze using the links below.

And just to be crystal clear, none of these steps – monitoring, fraud alerts, or security freeze – will stop identity thieves from using your existing accounts. For that, you need to report fraud directly to each institution or company directly.

It also won’t stop identity thieves from trying to steal something other than credit. Like, say, your tax return. The Federal Trade Commission has some great resources on the topic, including a comprehensive checklist of steps you should take to report and recover from identity theft. The Identity Theft Resource Center is also a great source for additional information and help.

Days Gone Bye

One year ago, I was trying to get everyone to pick better passwords. All of that information still applies so you should do it. Unless you want to end up like these people.

And Another Thing…

One simple thing you can do to reduce your exposure to identity thieves is to opt-out of prescreening for credit and insurance. You can do this with the four bureaus at this one handy website.