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Community urged to protect identities

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By Roger Snodgrass

A Los Alamos resident was notified by Los Alamos National Laboratory last month that his personal information may have been compromised by a malicious attacker. He said this morning that the incident called for “extreme vigilance.”Wally McCorkle, who got one of the letters advising him that his social security number may have been hacked during a particularly serious event that penetrated a firewall in the laboratory’s security system, has been sharing research and advice with other members of the community.In a formal statement at the time, the laboratory said that it was unable to elaborate on the details of the attack or the nature of the data taken, because the matter was under forensic investigation.“Don’t be passive,” McCorkle said. “Be active on the steps you’re going to take to mitigate the potential identity threat. I went to the Internet and pulled up articles.”He has decided to protect himself by going with LifeLock, the company that charges $10 a month for identity protection.The company has had a highly visible advertising campaign lately with a spot showing a van driving through an urban environment with the CEO’s social security number written in big numbers on the side.McCorkle said the million-dollar guarantee the company advertises does not provide money for direct losses, but does provide attorney and support services to reverse the effects of identity theft.“If you read the material,” McCorkle said,  “it clearly states what they will recover or not recover.”McCorkle describes himself as a “novice techno-geek,” who has become paranoid about identity theft because he spends a good part of the year traveling in an RV. He conducts much of his business on the Internet.“I’m using an Internet café, using a wireless network or a wireless telephone modem,” he said. “Any time you use a public system anywhere, even a library, you are potentially more exposed than at home.”McCorkle advised members of the community to take a look at the New Mexico law (http://legis.state.nm.us/Sessions/07%20Regular/final/SB0165.pdf) that went into effect on July 1, 2007. The measure allows consumers to place a security freeze on their credit reports.An informational site provided by Consumers Union (www.consumersunion.org/pdf/security/securityNM.pdf), details additional directions and tailored form letters to the three main credit bureaus.These organizations charge a $10 fee to freeze credit report accounts so they are not shared with potential creditors, but the fee is waived for consumers over 65 or those who can demonstrate that they are victims of identity theft.One downside, he noted, is that after the credit is frozen, the consumer would be charged $5 to reverse the freeze.He also recommends talking to one’s financial services companies and giving some consideration to upgrading security, especially for those who are engaged in online banking.Some banks and investment accounts offer token cards that provide protection against keyboard loggers and other intrusive software schemes that can steal a consumer’s personal identification and passwords.“There are lots of schemes,” he said, “but the token card process is considered the industry standard.”With information as minimal as one’s social security number, the consumer faces the danger that somebody can create an alternate identity using his or her credit report and name and buy things on credit.There are potentially two negative consequences, McCorkle said: “One is that your credit is ruined, so that you can’t use it, and the other is that you have to pay those bills off. “