Friday, September 29, 2017

So, About that Equifax Security Breach…….



We try to keep the topics fun and interesting around the old Credit Union coffee shop. 
Not this time.
The recent data breach at Equifax, of one of the three major credit bureaus (the other two are Experian and TransUnion) is a big deal that could affect many of us.  These three credit reporting agencies are used extensively by financial institutions, insurance companies, employers, heck, even your landlord.
A typical credit file contains much personal information including names, former names, addresses, employer information, birth dates, social security numbers, items of public record and, of course, credit payment history.  In other words, more than enough information for a criminal to steal your identity.
I want to make sure everyone understands that this is a completely different and more dangerous situation than when a retailer gets hacked.  A retailer usually only has information about one of your credit cards.  Fraud on a credit card is a hassle, but you are protected by law so you get your money back, you get a new card and life goes on.
If somebody steals your identity, they could obtain multiple forms of credit in your name (stealing the proceeds) or even attempt to take over investment accounts, etc.  This situation is a substantially bigger deal – more money is at stake and an even bigger hassle.
This process of fraud usually takes time.  The criminals that steal the information don’t usually commit the actual fraud on accounts.  They sell this information to other criminals who are good at committing this type of crime.  This takes time and the fraudsters are patient so you must be vigilant for years to come.
Now for the really bad news: there are approximately 200 million credit files in the United States.  143 million of them were compromised in the Equifax data breach.
What to do?  You do have options, which is the only little bit of good news in this blog post.  There are credit monitoring services that also have tools to prevent identity theft.  These are private, for profit companies so I won’t recommend any in particular (Equifax offers this service which is a little ironic).  Just google identity theft prevention and you will have many choices.
The other option worth considering is contacting the three credit bureaus and locking your credit file.  This means nobody can access your information without you first unlocking the file via a PIN number that only you have.  Doing this prevents any unauthorized credit from being issued in your name.  It’s a little bit of a hassle in that you would need to “unlock” your file anytime you wanted to borrow money, etc. but it may be worth it.  Contact the credit bureaus for this service.
Here is a link provided by Equifax regarding the data breach and some free services they offering: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.  Be advised that there is a huge back log of people trying to enroll in these services so there are lengthy delays in the enrollment process.  There is also some excellent information at www.identitytheft.gov. 
It’s easy to dismiss situations like this with the old “it won’t happen to me”.  Please don’t, protect yourself.

Mark