Equifax Breach Impacts 143 Million Americans: How To Protect Yourself
Yesterday, Equifax announced a security breach that impacted 143 million Americans. A company that sells identity protection services has become the victim of a breach that is unprecedented in both size (half the country) and scope (the type of information that was stolen).
In this post, I will explain:
- How to determine if you have been impacted
- The risk from this breach
- How to protect yourself
Have I Been Impacted?
Given the number of records exposed, it is highly likely that your information has been exposed. There is a quick way to find out. Visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and input your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security Number. You can determine if you have been impacted. I was impacted – and here is the message I received:
How Big A Risk Is The Breach?
There is no disguising the severity of the information that was stolen: this is about as bad as it gets. The fraudsters were able to obtain social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and – in some cases – drivers license numbers and even credit card numbers.
Once a fraudster has a social security number, date of birth and address – it becomes much easier for the fraudster to open new credit accounts. Even worse, the social security number can be sold and used in other high risk scenarios – including for medical debt.
Equifax has stated that it “has found no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.” But that should not provide reassurance. Consumers should assume that the data will eventually be used – and it could be used years into the future.
How To Protect Yourself
Everyone should have a strategy for:
- Prevention: make it difficult for fraudsters to open a new account
- Early detection: find out as soon as possible if a fraudster is trying to open a new account
- Resolution: if your information is stolen, have a plan to dispute and close unauthorized accounts
If you have been impacted by the breach, your data has already been exposed. You could consider a credit freeze. If you don’t plan on opening any credit cards or mortgages in the near future, a credit freeze could be a good idea. You can learn how to freeze your credit report here.
If a fraudster tries to open a new account on any of your credit bureaus, you should be notified immediately. You can get free credit monitoring from sites like CreditKarma. If you have been a victim of the Equifax breach, you will get free 3-bureau monitoring for a year. If you haven’t been a victim, you could pay for 3-bureau monitoring from one of the credit bureaus or FICO.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, it can take a lot of work to get the issue resolved. The federal government has a helpful (although intimidating) checklist at IdentityTheft.gov. If you pay for 3-bureau monitoring, you will probably have resolution services included. Typically that means you will provide a power of attorney and let the resolution service handle the dispute and legal processes. A resolution service is like an insurance policy: you pay now so that you can get help from a team of experts if your identity is compromised.