Q: My husband and I did something really stupid. We received an email over the Internet that told us that we might have money waiting for us and asked us to submit our personal information.

So, I put in our Social Security number and now I’m very concerned that it might have been a scam. What can we do? How can we stop whatever may become of it?

Obviously, it is our fault that our Social Security number was given out, but we’re wondering if they can take banking records from our computer and use that to wipe us out. Are there any safeguards we can now use?

A: Yikes! It’s bad enough that consumer’s Social Security numbers are being stolen left and right. But you fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book. You are rightly concerned about giving sensitive information like your social security number out on line.

Now you’ve got to pull out all the stops — and fast unless you can verify for certain that the company that sent you the email is an honest company and that the money that is due you actually is on its way. You should contact the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General’s office of your state to determine if any complaints have been filed against the company that sent you the email. If general information about the company is not easily obtainable, you should suspect it is a fraudulent company and proceed to protect yourself.

You should immediately pull a copy of your combined credit history from MyFico.com (about $39) and check to see if any new accounts have been opened under your name and social security number that aren’t yours. In any event, you may want to request that a fraud alert be put onto your credit history. (You can do that online from any of the credit reporting bureaus websites, exquifax.com, experian.com, or transunion.com.)

The fraud alert means that for 90 days, no one can open up a new credit account without the creditor contacting you.

Next, you should go to your local police station and file a police report. You will need this to help clear up your credit history should fake accounts start to appear. You will also need this to put a longer fraud alert onto your credit history.

If nothing has popped up yet on your credit history, then, you’ve got to wait to see if someone is going to use your stolen social security number. You may want to pay for one of the credit history watch services, like the Gold service from Equifax, which sends you an instant email alert every time there is a change to your credit report. You can check out the offerings at each of the credit reporting bureaus websites. Expect to spend between $100 to $200 per year for their top-of-the-line programs.

I don’t normally think consumers need to go this far, but since you actually gave out your social security number online, I think you may want to do whatever you can to protect yourself now especially if you suspect the company after looking into the matter further.

When it comes to your bank accounts, you should talk to your banker about what can be done. It’s possible that your accounts could be liquidated (con artists know how to find out what you have simply by getting your name and social security number, both of which you’ve disclosed) overnight.

Your banker may want to change the account numbers on your account. I think this could be an important move. You will also want to contact any other financial institutions in which you have money, stocks, bonds or other securities.

Finally, you should install a firewall in your computer, as well an an antivirus software program. The firewall, if installed correctly, should protect you from someone hacking their way into your system. The antivirus should protect you from programs that try to steal your information.

Good luck. For more information, check out my website, www.thinkglink.com. In the search engine, type in “identity theft.”

July 21, 2005.