Another day, another security breach.
In the last three years, we’ve seen major data breaches at Anthem, the IRS, the Office of Personnel Management, and JP Morgan Chase. And this week, we learned of the latest – and perhaps largest breach yet – at credit monitoring agency Equifax. My personal information was compromised in the 2015 Anthem breach and has apparently been exposed in this one as well. As I wrote back in 2015, I’m increasingly coming to the sad conclusion that data security breaches are now just a fact of life. In case you missed the details, information including social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, the driver’s license and credit card numbers, of 143 million individuals was stolen by hackers from mid-May through July. Inexplicably, Equifax waited nearly six weeks after identification of the hack to release details, and adding insult to injury, three high level staff, including the CFO, sold large blocks of stock in the intervening period (although the company has said the executives did not know of the breach at the time of stock sales. Hmmm.)
Putting this into perspective, over ½ of consumers who have a credit record have had their information exposed in this breach alone, so if knowing you have company provides any solace, take comfort. There may actually be some protection in the numbers; with 143 million credit records on the loose, there are only so many hackers out there and the odds of any one person’s information being illicitly utilized are likely lower. None-the-less, the risk remains at least at some level. So, what to do?
1. Equifax is offering a suite of free credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance for ALL consumers, regardless of whether their information was compromised. To find out if your personal information was compromised, and to enroll regardless of whether it was or wasn’t, you can visit the www.equifaxsecurity2017.com site. You will need to enter your last name and the last six digits of your SSN to do so (which while understandably required is also a little ironic). There was some concern that by enrolling in the service, consumers would be waiving their right to participate in any resulting class action law suits related to this matter. However, the company now states on their website that the arbitration and class action waiver clauses of the service have been waived for anyone enrolling through the site.
2. Monitor and review your credit reports more frequently, although this function should be included in the suite provided through Equifax’s service offering. However, if you would like to review separately, Experian and Equifax both offer credit report access on their sites and all three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) offer free credit reports through the federally mandated www.annualcreditreport.com site. Each bureau is required to provide one free report per year though this site, and so it may make sense to visit every four months, rotating which report you review.
3. If you would like to fully lock down access to your credit report, and require manual intervention on your part before anyone can access your credit record, you may do so by visiting each of the bureau’s freeze sites listed below.
Note that Equifax’s record can also be frozen through their TrustedID Premier service being offered for free as part of the breach recovery effort, and TransUnion’s record may also be frozen through their free TrueIdentity service.
4. File your taxes early, if you can. One of the major targets of identity theft is filing fraudulent tax returns seeking an illicit refund. By filing early, you block out any possibility of a fraudulent return being accepted.
5. Pay increased attention to your bank and other account statements for any unauthorized activity.
6. Finally, don’t fall prey to any of the inevitable email phishing attempts that will soon follow.
I understand this is all an annoyance. As I mentioned above, I was affected by this breach and the 2015 Anthem breach, as well as the Home Depot and Target credit card breaches. There is no need to panic, but I do think minimally it’s worth enrolling in the Equifax TrustedID Premier service for the added protection it will offer. If your level of concern is particularly high, and it will help you sleep at night, it may be worth the extra effort of placing a freeze on your credit record at the three bureaus for the extra peace of mind.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything we can do for you.