The Equifax breach is shaping up to be the largest data hack in history in terms of the number of Americans effected. There is still a lot of confusion about what exactly happened, but there are a few initial steps you can take to help protect yourself from theft based on what we do already know.
According to initial information, it appears that a software weakness existed from mid-May through July of 2017 before it was patched. During this time, it seems that hackers accessed the personal and financial data of about 143 million Americans. The information gathered by hackers included names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and even credit card numbers.
Equifax is one of the largest credit reporting agencies. If you have an established credit history, your information has a high probability of having been leaked.
How Might Consumers Be Affected?
Often, hackers and identity thieves get only bits and pieces of personal and financial data. Breaches at retail stores will often only reveal names and credit card numbers, mail theft can produce social security numbers, but thieves rarely get the full picture. What makes this breach so dangerous is the breadth of information stolen. As mentioned before, an array of personal and financial information was stolen intact. Not only does a thief now know your name and social security number, but if asked to verify your identity, they could produce your address and driver’s license number too.
Consumers could be affected by both fraudulent accounts opened in their name and by theft from their existing accounts. The combination of information stolen leaves the door open to a variety of different ways identity thieves could use it.
What Can I do to Protect Myself?
Today, what you can do is to check over your full financial history by requesting a credit report from all three major credit monitoring agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You can get a free report from each of these agencies once a year. Request your report and check it over for anything that could be fraudulent.
Some recommend putting a complete freeze on your credit. This would keep any new accounts from being opened with your information. You can also sign up for a credit monitoring service that would alert you if new accounts were opened in your name.
This won’t necessarily protect you from theft of your current assets though. Keep a close eye on your bank and retirement accounts for unusual activity. It would also be wise to file your tax return as early as possible next year. Identity thieves often try to file taxes as individuals to keep the return for themselves, but if you file first, they will not be able to.
What is Equifax Doing to Help?
Equifax has created a website (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) under the pretense of helping people check if they were affected by the breach and are offering 1 year of free credit monitoring. This might come with a catch though. It would appear from the agreement that signing up for a year of free credit monitoring may waive your right to participate in a class action lawsuit. The effects of this breach could hurt you for many years to come, so weigh your options before you agree to Equifax’s proposed solution.
All in all, you might be thinking, the Equifax breach sounds bad, but should I care? The answer is unequivocally: yes! This is larger than any other breach and includes far more valuable information than most individual companies ever have. What makes this breach even worse is that all of your information is linked together in a neat package for identity thefts to easily personify you. Expect to hear about this breach and its ramifications for years to come.