Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, was the victim of a criminal cyber-attack this summer that potentially impacted 145.5 million people in the United States. Hackers gained access to company data that contains highly sensitive information, including social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, addresses, birth dates, credit card information, and more. Although there have been other cyber-security breaches in recent years, this attack is particularly concerning for many consumers due to the ultra-sensitive nature of the information. Additionally, the information that Equifax maintains in their databases is much more extensive than the information that was exposed in previous publicized security breaches.
For those that assume they are not impacted by the breach because they have never personally used Equifax, think again. Any individual that has requested a credit report or uses credit could potentially be affected. Equifax handles the data of 820 million consumers and works with more than 91 million companies around the world. Although Equifax has promised to notify those potentially affected by e-mail, Equifax suggests visiting the Equifax website to check for a potential impact. Equifax is also offering the opportunity for consumers to enroll in one year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection offered through TrustedID (an Equifax product). For those consumers that receive an affirmative potential impact result, enrolling in one year of free credit monitoring is one way to monitor whether a thief is attempting to use your social security number for credit purposes. Enrolling in TrustedID does not take away consumers’ rights to take legal action against Equifax. Consumers must make an independent decision as to whether they should follow Equifax’s advice.
Some consumers may have considered freezing their credit. While this is a viable option for preventing thieves from opening any lines of credit under their stolen social security numbers, consumers considering this option should also consider the difficulties associated with trying to re-open and re-freeze their credit. Other options consumers have for protecting themselves after the Equifax breach include resetting passwords, setting fraud alerts with credit reporting agencies, and vigilantly monitoring bank and credit card statements.