Equifax, one of the big three US credit bureaus, disclosed a breach affecting 143 million people, for the most part Americans. Among the information lost (and lost it was—this is a case of known unauthorized access, not merely exposure) are names, Social Security Account Numbers, dates of birth, and addresses. Large subsets of the affected individuals also lost credit card numbers, dispute documents, and driver’s license numbers.
Equifax said an unspecified flaw in its website was exploited by the hackers. The company said it noticed the breach on July 29th, forty-nine days before yesterday’s disclosure. Equifax is offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection; it also says its core credit-record databases were uncompromised.
At this point we have to assume that the bad guys have highly personal information that they can use to trick us. We need to watch out for the following things:
- Phishing emails that claim to be from Equifax where you can check if your data was compromised
- Phishing emails that claim there is a problem with a credit card, your credit record, or other personal financial information
- Calls from scammers that claim they are from your bank or credit union
- Fraudulent charges on any credit card because your identity was stolen
Here are 5 things you can do to prevent identity theft:
- First sign up for credit monitoring (there are many companies providing that service besides Equifax)
- Next freeze your credit files at the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Remember that generally it is not possible to sign up for credit monitoring services after a freeze is in place. Advice for how to file a freeze is available here on a state-by-state basis: http://consumersunion.org/research/security-freeze/
- Check your credit reports via the free www.annualcreditreport.com
- Check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized activity
- If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, here is a site where you can learn more about how to protect yourself: www.idtheftcenter.org . You can also call the center’s toll-free number (888-400-5530) for advice on how to resolve identify-theft issues. All of the center’s services are free.