SEATTLE – The recovery of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs laptop stolen in a May burglary is good news, said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, but he said veterans and active-duty military whose personal information was stored on the computer should continue to take precautions until the investigation is complete.
“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that a preliminary review by computer forensic teams determined that the database remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen,” McKenna said. “There have been no reports that the stolen data has been used for identity theft. That’s reassuring. But veterans should continue to take prudent steps to protect themselves from potential harm until federal investigators can affirm that no information has been compromised.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a more thorough forensics examination of the recovered equipment. An FBI spokeswoman told the Attorney General’s Office that it is not known when the examination will be complete. U.S. Veterans Affairs indicated results will be shared as soon as possible.
U.S. Veterans Affairs and the state Attorney General’s Office are recommending that individuals continue to monitor their credit reports and monthly statements from banks and creditors for suspicious activity. U.S. Veterans Affairs earlier announced that it will provide one year of free credit monitoring to individuals whose sensitive personal information may have been stolen. Now that the laptop has been recovered, the department’s decision to provide monitoring will depend on the results of the forensic examination.
U.S. Veterans Affairs sent letters in June to veterans, service members, and reservists whose personal information was included on the stolen computer equipment. If you did not get a letter, the department states that in all likelihood your identifying information was not stolen.
Washington veterans who received letters have several options to help protect themselves from potential identity theft. They can request a credit report security freeze, place a fraud alert with the credit-reporting agencies, or continue to monitor their statements without taking further action.
How to request a credit report security freeze:
A freeze will block access to your credit report from potential creditors. Veterans should be aware that they, too, will not be able to open new credit while a freeze is in place. Individuals can request that a freeze be temporarily lifted for the purpose of obtaining new credit. Placing a freeze is free for qualifying Washington residents.
To request a freeze, you must have a copy of the letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs AND the mailing envelope addressed to you. The envelope is needed because the letter does not have any identifying information. If you did not keep your letter or envelope, request a replacement by contacting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs toll-free information number, 1-800-FED-INFO (333-4636). The call center is open from 5 a.m.-6 p.m. (PDT) Monday-Saturday.
To request a freeze:
- Write to each of the three major credit reporting agencies requesting a credit report security freeze. In your letter, you should include information to prove your identity, including your full name, Social Security number, address and birth date. (Keep copies of your request letters for your records).
- Include the following with your request:
A copy of your letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Keep the original for your records.)
A copy of the Veterans Affairs mailing envelope addressed to you. (Keep the original for your records.)
A copy of the Montgomery County Police Department letter verifying the theft. Download the letter from the Attorney General’s Office Web site or from the police department at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/POL/media/Veteran_Letter.pdf. (Free Adobe Acrobat Reader software is needed to view these forms.)
Proof of address, such as copy of a utility bill, bank statement or insurance statement.
Experian also requires a copy of a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license or military ID.
(The bureaus may request additional information to process your request.)
- Send your request and documentation by certified mail (required and beneficial for your protection) to each of the following addresses:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Trans Union Security Freeze
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Note: You can also contact Trans Union at 1-888-909-8872 to request a security freeze form, which you can fill out and return in lieu of a letter.
How to place a fraud alert with the credit-reporting agencies:
While only a freeze will block access to a credit report, a fraud alert is a less restrictive option available to consumers and may help them know who is accessing their credit history.
With one phone call, you can place a fraud alert on your three credit reports for 90 days. Extended fraud alerts may also be available; details are available on the bureaus’ Web sites. Call one of the bureaus listed below and that bureau will share the information with the other two. All three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com
Experian: 1-888-397-3742, www.experian.com
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com
An alert places a statement on your credit report. If an imposter attempts to obtain credit in your name, the creditor will check your credit and will encounter a statement that says something to this effect: "I may be a victim of fraud. Call me at my phone number 123-456-7890 before extending credit."
How to place an active duty fraud alert:
If you are away from your permanent duty station, you may place an active duty alert on your credit file to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed. Active duty alerts are in effect on your file for one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can place another alert on your credit file.
You may place an active duty alert on your credit file by contacting any one of the nationwide consumer reporting companies mentioned above. The process for getting and removing an active duty alert, and a business' response to your alert, are the same as for an 'initial alert.' You may use a personal representative, such as a spouse, to place or remove an alert. If you are not on active duty, use the standard fraud alert.
When you place an active duty alert, you'll be removed from the credit reporting companies' marketing list for pre-screened credit card offers for two years unless you ask to go back on the list before then.
How to receive copies of your credit reports without requesting a fraud alert or freeze:
All consumers can obtain a free credit report every 12 months, regardless of whether they have been identity theft victims. Call 1-877-322-8228 or make a request online at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Veterans Affairs Hotline: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has set up a Web site at http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml with more information about the security breach. The agency has also established a toll-free information number, 1-800-FED-INFO (333-4636). The call center is open from 5 a.m.-6 p.m. (PDT) Monday-Saturday.
- Responding to Security Breaches: A Federal Trade Commission fact sheet, "What to Do if Your Personal Information Has Been Compromised," provides steps to take to minimize the potential for identity theft. It is online at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/infocompalrt.pdf.
- Washington’s Credit Report Security Freeze Law: Common questions about the state’s credit report security freeze are answered on the Attorney General’s Web site.
- Identity Theft Victims: If you become a victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-551-4636 for further assistance. Information is also available online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft and www.atg.wa.gov.
- Benefits for Washington Veterans: Contact the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs 1-800-562-2308 or visit the agency’s Web site at www.dva.wa.gov for information about benefits and services available to Washington veterans.
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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, Attorney General’s Office, (206) 464-6432, firstname.lastname@example.org