Credit card breaches have become more frequent in recent history, but none compare to the recent data breach at Equifax, one of the big three consumer credit reporting agencies. The sensitive personal details of more than 143 million consumers were exposed in this historic breach, which occurred from mid-May through July 2017, and wasn’t reported publicly until September.
The impact of this breach is wide in scope, as it enabled hackers to access consumers’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and even some driver’s license numbers. Credit card numbers were stolen from at least 209,000 people—as were dispute documents for nearly 182,000 more. Consumers in Canada and the United Kingdom were also impacted by this security breach.
Not surprisingly, Equifax is now the subject of multiple investigations, not just because of the breach itself, but also due to the recent Bloomberg News report that the company knew about a major breach in its computer systems nearly five months before it was publicly disclosed and the revelation that key executives privately sold their stock just prior to the announcement to consumers.
What can you do to protect yourself as a consumer? For the short term, you can take the following actions:
- Monitor your credit reports at all three reporting agencies for free by signing up at annualcreditreport.com.
- Contact each of the credit reporting agencies to put a fraud alert or a freeze on your files. However, know that credit freeze cannot stop an identity thief from attempting charges on your existing accounts; it only prevents them from opening new ones in your name.
- File your taxes as early as possible to prevent a thief from attempting to secure your income tax refund, or use your Social Security number to get a job.
- Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com on a secure computer with an encrypted network to determine whether your information was exposed. Use the “Potential Impact” link. Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring for those affected, although many experts have advised against this. If you do decide to accept the credit monitoring, make sure to read the terms and conditions. Initially, Equifax included language that binds consumers to arbitration; however, this language was rescinded after government intervention.
To learn more about immediate steps to take after a security or data breach, visit www.identitytheft.gov/databreach. Or call Pope McGlamry at 877-285-7656 for a consultation with our consumer protection experts.
Sources: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Bloomberg Technology