If you have ever been a customer of Hotels.com, this might affect you. Credit card numbers and names of 243,000 of the company’s customers were on a laptop computer stolen from an Ernst & Young employee in February. They only began notifying customers last week as until recently, the companies didn’t know what was contained on the hard drive.
The computer was password-protected, so maybe none of the data has been accessed. Nevertheless, it’s a good reason to check your most recent credit report from annualcreditreport.com, the only official free annual credit report provider.
If Hotels.com or Ernst & Young reported the stolen data to its customers immediately after the incident, the street value of that computer would increase and the perpetrator would have an incentive for paying an expert to recover the data. Chances are the person who stole the computer did not know what was on it, and by now, this particular laptop will never be found or identified.
The other possible situation is that the hard drive was cracked right away and thousands of customers have been defrauded.
News media love these stories because “identity fraud” is a big ratings driver. It’s not as bad as a problem as most people would like the population to believe, but it’s good to know what you do to deal with the situation. Keep copies of the fronts and backs of your cards and anything else you carry in your wallet, and check your credit reports for fraudulent activity when you qualify for a free report or when your application for a credit card, a loan, or a lease is rejected.
Trying to prevent identity theft by never performing a transaction online is ridiculous; an encrypted internet connection is more secure than buying a product over the phone with a credit card, giving your credit card to a waiter or a gas attendant who disappears with it and returns later, or using your debit card at an ATM.
Updated July 16, 2010 and originally published June 2, 2006.