January 23, 2007
With the threat of identity theft multiplying each time a data-laden laptop is lost or stolen, many states are tightening rules on notifying consumers. But suppose a company or government agency notifies you that your Social Security number, credit card information or other sensitive data has been compromised.

What happens next? How do you protect yourself?

"Consumers who get word that their information may have been compromised should notify the three credit bureaus, consider placing a freeze on their credit, and continue checking their credit frequently," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

North Carolina has an online "victims' tool kit -- noscamnc.gov/toolkit.html -- with instructions on how to freeze your credit, a sample letter to request a credit freeze, the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Affidavit, and other documents.

Cooper has just dealt with the issue, since a North Carolina Department of Revenue laptop containing information about approximately 26,000 consumers and 7,700 businesses was stolen last month.

North Carolina had recently enacted a new law requiring speedy notification in such cases. But Cooper says consumers remain vulnerable until they take action to protect themselves.

"Consumers who get one of these notices can act fast to protect their good names," Cooper said.

Under North Carolina's new law, state and local government as well as businesses must notify consumers if a security breach may have compromised their personal information and potentially placed them at greater risk of identity theft.