September 26, 2017
Starting in the middle of May through July, one of the three main credit reporting agencies in the country, Equifax, was subjected to a data security breach. As a result, 143 Million Equifax users had their financial history compromised. This includes Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even driver’s license numbers. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the hackers also procured credit card numbers for around 209,000 individuals and more personal identifying information for around 182,000 people. Even worse, the hackers may have also taken information about Canadian residents as well.
This is an extremely serious data breach that affects roughly half of the adults in the United States, and as a credit reporting agency, you have likely used their services without even knowing it. If you have ever applied to get a credit card, loan, bought a car, opened a bank account, purchased a cell phone plan, applied for college, paid electric bills, paid water bills, purchased a home, or rented an apartment, Equifax may have your personal information on file.
What Makes this Attack so Dangerous?
This data breach is much more serious than other high-profile hacks of the past few years. While the Target or PlayStation Network breaches may have credit card information, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses potentially on file, Equifax holds far more. The Equifax breach gives an identity thief your Social Security Number and every major transaction you’ve ever made in your life. Using this information, an identity thief could open and max out credit cards, file for loans in your name, and even attempt to buy a house. The normal authorities would be completely unaware of the stolen identity, and the hackers can tank your credit score in the meantime.
The Good News
The only good news here is the scale of the attack provides some protection for those affected. There has been so much information stolen that the odds of your information being chosen to exploit is fairly low. Those that are chosen can look forward to several years fighting to prove that they did not ruin their own credit.
What Can We Do?
In response to this attack, there are things that you can do to protect yourself.
- See if You Are Potentially Impacted: Equifax has built a webtool on their site to determine if users are potentially impacted by the breach. Input your name and SSN in the webform to see if you’re affected. If you are indeed affected, proceed to step two.
- Get a Credit Report: Every American is entitled to a free credit report once a year. It is imperative that you get your credit reports now and continue to monitor them moving forward. Use AnnualCreditReport.com over other sites like CreditKarma and FreeCreditReport. AnnualCreditReport.com will give you the full information from the major credit agencies.
- Consider Freezing Your Credit: If you are not a student or currently in a situation where your credit must be checked regularly, freeze your credit. This will prevent any organization from inquiring into your credit. Therefore, it will thwart an identity thief from opening any accounts in your name. Though it will not stop them from affecting any existing accounts. To freeze your credit, you must call each of the following numbers to initiate a credit freeze:
When freezing your credit, these institutions will each issue you a long PIN number. Because those PINs were not part of the hack, only you will have possession of it. When it comes time to unfreeze your credit, you must have this PIN. Do not misplace it.
- Monitor Existing Accounts Closely: Even with frozen credit, an identity thief can still use your existing credit card accounts without your knowledge. Monitor these accounts closely for any suspicious purchases made.
- When Necessary, Unfreeze Your Credit: When it does come time to finance a large purchase, apply for a loan, or otherwise have your credit checked by an approved institution, you will need to unfreeze your credit. Have your PIN numbers ready.
The Grim Reality
This breach could affect over half of the population. Those odds are too high to ignore, and we strongly encourage everyone to do as much research into this issue as possible. Visit the FTC page regarding the breach for more information.
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