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How to check if your SSN has been stolen and protect your personal data

To avoid becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft, Americans are advised to fix their credit rating (security freeze) at its current mark and delete any suspicious emails, advises USA Today.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anti-theft information experts gave advice that is now relevant for every US citizen.

Hackers now have the four most important pieces of identification data in almost half of the country, says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who previously worked at Equifax.

This is why Ulzheimer and other cybersecurity analysts are urging consumers to freeze their credit reports at three of the world's top credit rating firms - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

If you freeze your credit rating, thereby placing a limit on who can access your credit reports. The freeze is critical because banks, mortgage lenders and other financial institutions will not lend to new applicants without first reviewing the credit report, says Keith Snyder, an analyst at the firm. Wall Street of firms CFRA Research.

Freeze is designed to prevent approval of credit, loans, and services on your behalf without your consent, Snyder says. This form of protection does not allow the credit bureau to use your information in response to a new loan request.

“When a financial institution refers to your credit report, it simply cannot get any information,” the analyst explains.

Credit alerts are less effective

You only get an alert after someone contacts you or tries to access your account without your permission. “The problem with credit alerts is that the system warns you about it,” says Snyder. And by that time, the hacker may already be able to make a profit using your stolen data.

A credit rating freeze that stays in place for as long as the consumer wants it is not free. Each state has its own registration procedures and fees. On average, this will cost between $ 5 and $ 10 for a credit bureau.

“But it’s worth it,” says Ulzheimer. "That's the best $ 15 you'll ever spend."

A customer who freezes a credit rating can request it to be temporarily unfrozen or briefly removed for a small fee. To do this, you need to contact the credit bureau, provide the personal PIN-code received at the time of its freezing, verify your identity and indicate the specific person or financial institution authorized to view your credit report. The credit agency has three days to unfreeze your account.

In the aftermath of a major data breach, consumers should be vigilant.

Scams, or so-called phishing, usually target potential victims using fraudulent email messages that appear to come from legitimate businesses such as your bank, employer, or the company you work with. These scammers are trying to steal personal data from you, and then use it to rob you.

“Don't fall for phishing attacks,” says Aviva Litan, security analyst at Gartner. "You shouldn't trust anyone by phone or email."

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