There has been a LOT of discussion about Equifax’s recent data breach – which is already being called “the worst data breach in the history of the modern era.” Hackers accessed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers of a whopping 143 million people, and the credit card information of at least 209,000. Not only are consumers being affected by this massive breach but banks and the card associations will feel the fallout too. Today we discuss Equifax’s breach effect on consumers in Part 1 of our blog; Part 2 will detail the impact this breach is anticipated to have on financial and payment organizations.
What Consumers Need to Know
In case you haven’t heard the details of the breach, here is a quick recap.
- Criminals exploited a U.S.-based website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files
- Unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017
- Information accessed primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers
- Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers and certain dispute documents for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers were accessed
- There was also unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain U.K. and Canadian residents.
CNN Money recently reported the five things consumers should do right now if you are concerned about whether your personal information has landed in the hands of hackers. While the 209,000 people whose credit cards were accessed will be notified directly by Equifax, the rest of us will need to consider the following:
- Check your free credit reports. Under federal law you are allowed to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (although you may want to steer clear of requesting data from Equifax at this time). You can request a copy of your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Checking your free credit report is an easy way to tell if anyone has requested a check on your credit, which can happen if someone (hackers) attempts to open up a new credit card or apply for a loan in your name. Although these things may take time to show up on your report, it is a good first step in monitoring any changes.
What the report won’t tell you is whether or not money has been stolen from a bank account or if there has been suspicious activity on your credit card.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit. Free of charge, you can put a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting one of the three credit agencies, which is then required to notify the other two. The fraud alert lasts for 90 days, and you will be notified if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.
- Keep an eye on bank accounts and credit card statements. Theft often happens over time, starting small and crossing over into other accounts, so it is a smart idea to get in the habit of regularly checking your bank and credit card statements, as well as your retirement and brokerage accounts.
- Sign up for credit monitoring or identify theft protection service Monitoring services usually alert you when a company checks your credit history, a new loan or credit card is opened in your name, a creditor says a payment is late, or if public records show you’ve filed for bankruptcy, according to the FTC.
While most credit monitoring services do not alert to suspicious activity on credit cards or bank accounts, some do offer identity theft protection that can alert you when your personal information is being used in ways that doesn’t show up on your credit report, such as utility and cable bills, payday loan applications, and social media.
While Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring, security experts are warning against it, stating that the breach is so severe that hackers will be able to use the stolen information for decades, so one year of free credit monitoring won’t do you much good.
- Freeze your credit. Consumer expert Clark Howard weighed in on what to do. “My advice is don’t go to Equifax’s website. Assume you are affected and act accordingly,” Clark said.
A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed. The added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
Howard states that freezing your credit files has no impact on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.
The cost typically ranges from about $3 to $10 per person per bureau to freeze a credit report, although some states don’t charge a fee. Here’s a state-by-state list.
If you don’t want to do a credit freeze, Clark suggests that you at least look into Credit Karma’s free credit monitoring.
Part 2 of our Equifax blog will discuss the aftershocks banks should expect to see from the breach, as well as what businesses can do to protect themselves from breaches. Stay tuned.