Tens of thousands of applicants to the Lifeline federal phone subsidy have been placed at heightened risk for identity theft after their Social Security numbers, birth dates and other pieces of highly sensitive information were included in files posted publicly online.
Officials for Oklahoma City-based TerraCom Inc. and its affiliate YourTel America Inc., the companies that collected the records that were publicly released, said they have added extra security. The records are no longer publicly accessible.
What can concerned applicants or clients do to protect themselves?
-- Check your financial statements. Review balances and activity for bank and government-assistance accounts and credit card statements for unusual activity. Contact the bank and state agency managing the accounts, and explain that your account information was publicly exposed. Ask if you need new account numbers.
-- Consider a fraud alert or credit freeze. A fraud alert is a red flag in your credit report. Before a loan is issued to someone with a fraud alert on file, the lender must verify your identity. A credit freeze is more stringent. It blocks creditors from accessing your credit report, and prevents new loans from being made in your name. The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center's interactive map (http://bit.ly/19EIljm) shows how state rules and fees for freezes differ across the country.
-- Contact TerraCom. The company has created a toll-free hotline -- 1-855-297-0243 -- to provide guidance on protecting financial information to guard against identity theft. The company hasn't specified if call center representatives are authorized to disclose whose information was publicly released.
-- Check your credit. Review your credit reports, which are gathered by three agencies and are all available at one website, annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 1-877-322-8228. These reports detail loans that have been made or credit accounts opened in your name. A careful review can identify if a fraudulent account has been opened.
-- Ask your state's attorney general's office for help. Some state attorneys general work aggressively to help residents fight identity theft by enforcing data-breach laws against companies that release sensitive records, taking complaints from consumers and answering questions from the public. See Scripps' accompanying state-by-state guide to resources: http://media2.scrippsnationalnews.com/shns/Lifeline/index.html
-- Contact your state's motor vehicle department. Alert the agency that your driver's license number may have been released. Ask whether you need a new license number.