Legal tip: useful identity theft prevention tools

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- On June 4, the Office of Personnel Management announced a cyber security breach that may have exposed the personal information of more than four million Federal civilian employees. The personal data of military members may have been compromised, but we don't know yet. Some news reports say as many as 18 million government employees' personal information may have been compromised. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Protecting yourself can be a hassle, but recovering from identity theft is a lot more work. Typically, identify theft occurs in one of two ways: 1) using the existing accounts to make purchases or steal money, or 2) opening new accounts in the victim's name. As a victim, it's important to track monthly expenses to see if there have been unauthorized expenses. Unfortunately, when new accounts are opened in your name, you usually won't find out until the account goes unpaid, and it is reported on your credit report. Paying for an identity theft prevention service may be worth it to save time and money after your identity has been stolen.

Recovering from identity theft will take some work. First, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Then, as part of the fraud alert, obtain a copy of your credit reports for free from each credit reporting agency (this is not your free annual report). Check these reports meticulously and cancel any compromised accounts. Then contact the fraud department of the accounts that were compromised to get fraudulent charges and accounts removed. You should also consider placing a credit freeze on your credit report to prevent additional accounts from being opened.

The Federal Trade Commission publishes many helpful guides and resources for all manner of identity information protection. You can learn about how to recover from identity theft, how to protect your identity, and how to liaise with law enforcement if you are concerned about your personal data. The FTC even publishes guides for businesses as well as individuals.

Go to the FTC's consumer information page on identity theft for all the resources listed above. If you have questions, the Legal Assistance hours are Mondays from 1-2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 9-10 a.m.