In what some are saying is the worst data leak in U.S. history, Equifax announced on September 7, 2017, that criminals infiltrated its database and ripped off personal information for 143 million individuals. The data breach included social security numbers, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, and a host of other personal information that gives criminals access to all the identification ingredients needed to become you.
This an extremely troubling development that should concern everyone impacted by the breach. The importance of your action to mitigate the damage to your identity cannot be understated.
Information obtained by criminals during this breach will allow them to cause a wide range of damage to victims, including applying for credit and forging identification documents in the victim’s name. Criminals can essentially become you at any time using this treasure trove of information. They can apply for jobs posing as you, sign up for new accounts in your name, and present your identity to authorities if they are caught committing a crime. You could face a long, hard road ahead if criminals lock you in their sights and use stolen Equifax information to steal your identity.
The most unfortunate part about this breach is the long-term ramification. The moment you let down your guard, you become more vulnerable to identity theft.
If you are impacted by the breach, your personal information will be in criminal’s hands forever. If you let down your guard in one year, 10 years, or 50 years from now, that’s when a criminal may choose to use your information for nefarious purposes. You must remain vigilant forever because your information will remain in cyber space forever.
The expense of permanent credit review and monitoring is what this Equifax security breach means to your personal security, and the company only offers one year of free monitoring to compensate you for their lax security. It’s a woefully inadequate response given the permanent nature of the damage inflicted on its customers as a result of its negligence.
What can you do to keep criminals from applying for credit in your name?
- Freeze your credit – This locks down your credit, preventing companies in most circumstances from obtaining your credit report. Neither you nor criminals will be able to apply for new accounts in your name when your credit is frozen. Credit bureaus do charge a small fee for this service. Learn more about this process at the Federal Trade Commission website here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit – Forces companies to verify your identity before they can get a copy of your credit, but it doesn’t lock down your credit to block new accounts. There is no fee for this service. The Federal Trade Commission offers more information on this process at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.
- Sign up for identity theft monitoring and protection service – A company will actively monitor your credit for suspicious activity and may work to mitigate the damage done to your credit and good name. Review more about this type of service at the Federal Trade Commission’s website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0235-identity-theft-protection-services.
You should also take the following free proactive steps to find out as soon as possible when a criminal uses your personal information to engage in financial transactions in your name:
- Check your credit report for free at all three major credit bureaus and look for any unauthorized activity, go to: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. You are entitled to one free credit report annually at each of the three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), but you don’t have to obtain them all at the same time. You can obtain a free credit report from a different bureau every four months, and return to the first bureau at the start of the new year.
- Check your financial account statements monthly for any unauthorized activity.
- Watch your mail for any unauthorized change of address forms.
To find out more information about this incident and whether your personal information may have been compromised, go to: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/.
For additional information on how to protect your credit cards and accounts online, check out: https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/online-card-protection-guide.php.
To learn how to unfreeze your credit, go to: https://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/lift-credit-freeze/