Why You Should Care About the Equifax Breach
By now, you’ve most likely heard the news: Equifax — one of the three major credit bureaus — announced on Sept. 7 that 143 million consumers’ information was leaked in a security breach. Information leaked includes social security numbers, dates of birth, names, credit card numbers, addresses and more. Scary, right?!
We all assume because it’s a credit bureau – you know, those people responsible for setting your FICO score – that they have hacker-free systems and stealing information is harder than breaking into Fort Knox. Well, weren’t we all proven wrong! And if you’re one of the 143 million – like me – you’re just praying that your hard-earned FICO score won’t plummet due to fraudulent accounts being opened.
Identity theft and security breaches happen all the time so why should you care so much about this one – well, because it affects EVERYONE! You’re probably saying, but wait, you said only 143 million people – yes, ok, that’s true, but if you’re an adult with a credit card, student loan, mortgage, personal loan, car loan, or any other type of credit account, you are a victim of the breach – even if you’ve never signed up for any Equifax product or credit report. If you have credit history – you are affected!
But how can that be? That’s because Equifax is one of the three major credit bureaus, meaning any bank or financial institution that manages your credit accounts reports your social security number, name, address and credit account information to the credit bureau to build your credit report. I told you it was Scary! And Equifax has said that the investigation is not 100% complete, so expect that 143 million number to climb.
Equifax discovered the breach on July 29, but didn’t announce it to the public until September 7 – over a month after they knew about it. And the leak occurred mid-May, so your information was available for use for over 3 months before you were notified. Yikes! If you haven’t checked your credit report lately, finish reading this article and do it ASAP!
Equifax is offering free identity theft protection from TrustedID for one year – but you should be aware that TrustedID is an Equifax-owned service. Currently, the terms and conditions state that if you sign up for the free protection, you’ll be waiving your right to join any future class-action lawsuits unless you send notification in writing within 30 days of signing the agreement.
While this is the third largest security breach, the information leaked in this breach is much more valuable than the two Yahoo breaches that hold the No. 1 and 2 spots. The revealed information is all someone would need to open a credit card in your name, which is something you should be concerned about.
While Equifax is providing one year of identity theft its likely not enough. The information leaked from this breach will never get outdated and never changes, allowing someone to steal your identity now or 10 years down the line — something one year of identity theft protection can’t fix. Victims will likely have to worry about identity theft for the rest of their lives.
There are some things you can do now and continue to do in the years to come:
Monitor your credit. Check your credit often. Consider using a credit report monitoring service. These services actively monitor your credit reports and alert you if something is added or changed, or if a new account appears on your reports.
Consider a credit freeze. This is a proactive approach to protecting your credit. When you place a credit freeze on your credit reports, you’re essentially locking them, meaning no new accounts can be opened in your name (by you or anyone else) and your credit reports cannot be viewed by any potential creditor. Keep in mind, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit when you need to get a new credit card, apply for a loan, or get a mortgage, but you can refreeze it afterwards.
Report identity theft immediately. Identity theft is a crime, which means it should be reported as soon as its spotted, like any other crime. Report it credit bureaus, the police, and the company that extended any credit.
It’s possible that this breach may affect the future of credit. Due to the number of people affected, and how dramatically identity theft increases, creditors may look to an alternative method than using social security numbers as a main source of identification.