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The Department of Veterans Affairs has set up a new hot line — 800-333-4636 — to answer questions regarding the lost data and its potential abuses. The line is staffed 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Additional information is available at www.firstgov.gov.

The VA and the Defense Department have also urged those affected to contact one of the three major consumer reporting agencies and obtain a free credit report:

Equifax: 800-525-6285; www.equifax.comExperian: 888-397-3742; www.experian.comTransUnion: 800-680-7289; www.transunion.comVA officials have not said whether they will provide funding for such services.

Military personnel deployed anywhere other than their usual duty station may place an “active-duty alert” on their credit report to help minimize their risk of identity theft. Any of the reporting companies listed above will perform the service free of charge for 12 months.

The alert requires businesses to more thoroughly verify the identity of anyone seeking a new credit account affiliated with the marked Social Security number.

Under federal law, anyone can place a 90-day fraud alert on their credit report, which forces the same types of identity checks before issuing new credit accounts.

Both options provide greater security to those worried about criminals obtaining unauthorized credit cards in their names, but can significantly delay legitimate requests for new credit accounts. Commercial monitoring services are also available once the free watch services have expired.

Officials emphasized that affected personnel do not need to change bank accounts, cancel credit cards or drop any other financial accounts as a result of the VA incident.

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