April 05, 2018

My Social Security number was compromised

Dear Consumer Ed:

I recently purchased a home and the closing attorney's office did not send my documents via encrypted mail, which resulted in the exposure of my personal information, including my Social Security number. What guidelines do attorneys who practice in the real estate area have to follow regarding the safe handling of consumer's personal information?

Consumer Ed says:

Georgia has a statute that prohibits anyone from communicating another person’s Social Security number (SSN) to the general public (Ga. Code Ann. § 10–1–393.8 (2015). However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as sending an email that includes SSN information as part of an application or enrollment process to establish a contract or to confirm the accuracy of the SSN information. You should consult with an attorney to determine whether you have a cause of action under the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act.

There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself if you think that your SSN and personal information have been compromised:

  • Consider placing a credit freeze. A credit freeze (or “security freeze”) makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. If you place a freeze, you'll have to lift the freeze before you apply for a new credit card, loan or any service that requires a credit check. To freeze your credit, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  • Check your credit reports now and every year. If you see any accounts or charges that you don't recognize, contact the credit reporting agencies.  To get your free credit reports as provided under Federal law, visit annualcreditreport.com. Georgia residents are entitled to an additional two free credit reports per year from each of the credit reporting agencies, which you can get by contacting the credit reporting agencies directly.
  • File your taxes early – before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your SSN to get a tax refund or a job. If you believe you have been the victim of tax identity theft, contact the IRS at irs.gov or (800) 908-4490.  

If you believe your Social Security number was not just exposed, but was actually stolen by an identity thief, you should report it to your local police department, fill out a report at identitytheft.gov, and contact the Georgia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division by calling (404) 651-8600.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed. Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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