The biggest news in the last few weeks in the world of finance and the world of technology is actually the same story: it’s the Equifax breach. Personally identifying data from more than 143 million individuals were breached by one of the world’s largest credit reporting agencies, leaving millions of individuals and businesses data vulnerable.
What does this breach mean to you, and how can you protect yourself and your business? Read on.
Who is Equifax?
If you’ve ever applied for a home loan, credit card or even if your business extends credit to individuals, you are probably familiar with Equifax. They provide one of the three major credit scoring agencies serving most consumer lending at financial institutions.
If you have an established credit history, Equifax likely has a substantial amount of information about you. Unfortunately, that information may have been breached as part of a hacking operation that went on for several months, beginning in May of 2017.
Extent of the Breach
Equifax claims that not all of the data maintained in their databases were accessed by the hackers, and that the credit reporting and scoring databases were not affected. However, they have admitted on their website that the breach did include:
- More than 200,000+ credit card numbers
- More than 189,000+ documents related to disputes containing personally identifying information
- Millions of social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and some driver’s license numbers.
It’s this last item that’s of major concern, as this is information that has a long shelf life and can be used to steal your identity.
The scope of the breach is huge, affecting more individuals than there are households in the United States. It’s likely that if you weren’t personally affected, someone close to you probably was. It’s the largest single breach of data in history.
What You Should Do Now
Immediately after the breach, Equifax set up a website to assist consumers in determining if they have been impacted by the breach. They are also offering free credit protection for one year to ensure that if identity theft does occur, consumers will be notified.
However, there’s a catch. To take advantage of either offer, you have to provide Equifax with even more of your personal data. Many consumers are uncomfortable with doing this, in light of Equifax having already breached a significant amount of personal data from millions of people.
In addition to checking Equifax’s database to see if you’ve been affected, here are a few more steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Security Freeze – You can request a one-year security freeze from all three credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to prevent anyone from signing up for a new account under your name. It will also prevent you from signing up for the credit so skip this step if you plan to apply for credit – including a home or car loan – in the near future.
- Request and review your credit reports from all three agencies, to confirm that no unusual activity has happened since April of this year. If it has, report it to the Federal Trade Commission – the agency that handles identity theft.
- Continue to check each year. You are entitled to a free credit report each year, so take advantage. Personally identifying information is forever; this breach could come back to haunt you in a few months, or even a few years.
- Monitor your bank, credit card and other financial statements carefully and frequently. Take action immediately if any discrepancies are found.
- Be on the lookout for scams. The data could be used in a variety of ways: scammers might attempt to contact you via email, snail mail or phone. They could use the information to try to trick you into providing even more personal information, including your credit card numbers or financial payment information.
- Don’t provide credit-related or personal information to anyone via email or a phone call you did not place, or from a name or number you don’t recognize
Unfortunately, data breaches like the one that is affecting Equifax's customers are becoming commonplace. Learn more about how network and data security monitoring from Tolar Systems can help. Contact us today.