On July 29th, Equifax discovered that it had suffered a massive cybersecurity breach that is believed to affect 143 million customers, nearly three quarters of the population of the country. This breach occurred from mid-May until it was discovered in July, giving hackers unlimited access to private, financial information. The information that was hacked included customer’s social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. Around 200,000 credit card numbers and the personal information from around 182,000 customers in a credit dispute were also compromised. The breach affected resident in the U.K and Canada as well.
One of the three nationwide credit-reporting companies, Equifax tracks and rates the credit worthiness of most Americans. The company has access to every part of a person’s financial information, including rent payments, child support, and loans applications. Unfortunately, many people may not realize that they are vulnerable to an Equifax cybersecurity breach because Equifax purchases public records, and credit card companies and retailers share your information with them freely.
If you fear you may have been compromised, you can check your status at
www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ (Link is no longer active). When you go to the Equifax site, you can sign up for a free full year of monitoring and identity theft protection. At first Equifax was forcing people to sign a waiver, agreeing not to participate in the class action lawsuit if they accepted the year of free monitoring, but public outcry has forced them to change this requirement. Equifax is now offering the full year and anyone who takes the coverage will not have to waive their rights to participate in the class action lawsuit.
What can you do to protect yourself, especially if you don’t trust Equifax to do it for you? CreditKarma.com offers a free credit report from the three credit bureaus, in addition to monitoring and alerts. Check with your bank or credit card company for assistance if you discover you’re a victim of the breach. Discover has also started offering free monitoring for their card holders. If you want a paid service, you can try LifeLock and Identity Guard, which offer a broader range of identity theft protection. You should also pull your credit report annually and review it for any unauthorized accounts.
Finally, the best solution to protect your identity is to impose a freeze on your credit files. In order to do this, you must contact each credit bureau separately, but it prevents new creditors from accessing your credit record and makes it harder for thieves to open up accounts in your name.
If this nuclear option is not for you, you can also get a free 90-day fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert forces creditors to take an extra step to verify your identity, but doesn’t block access to your credit. However, unless you are a victim of fraud, you have to renew your fraud alert every 90 days.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you are eligible for an extended fraud alert of seven years and you are allowed two credit reports every twelve months from each credit agency.
Ultimately, you need to be vigilant in protecting yourself. Report any suspicious activity to your bank or credit companies, monitor your credit report once a year, and check the Equifax website to see if you or a family member was a victim of this latest massive cyberattack.