It’s been several weeks since the massive Equifax data breach became public knowledge. The panic that followed the astounding news has given way to anger, bafflement, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
This isn’t the first data breach, nor the biggest. We read the headlines about a hacked company, then there is a public outcry that quickly fizzles out. The company may be sued a few months down the line, and some of us might take extra precautions, but then it is forgotten.
But this time, it’s different.
First, Equifax is at the core of our personal information and cybersecurity ecosystem. When our trust in one cog in this system wavers, who’s to say we can trust the system at all?
Second, Equifax is an independent company that regularly receives information about almost every American without consent. Most of us have never knowingly volunteered to give our information to the credit reporting agency; it’s simply part of the system. When viewed through the lens of this tremendous data breach, it seems like we have almost no control over this sensitive information.
The Equifax data breach won’t disappear quietly, and we will feel the ripple effect of the hack for months, and possibly for years to come.
While there are still many more questions than answers, lots of factors have been clarified. Here at United Texas Credit Union, we want to pass that crucial information on to you.
Here are some of the most common questions:
Is Equifax accountable for the breach?
It most certainly is! While any company with the best security can be hacked, Equifax is being critiqued for having a weak security system and an unprofessional and ineffectual reaction to the breach.
To date, over 50 class-action lawsuits name the credit bureau. It is also under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and at least 33 state attorneys general. Both houses of Congress are requesting information, and Equifax’s CEO should testify within the next few weeks.
While angry victims are demanding justice, it is likely that Equifax will argue that it bore no responsibility or obligations to the affected individuals, as it had no direct relationship with them.
What is Equifax doing about the breach?
The credit bureau’s reaction to the breach has been highly criticized from every angle. During the first few days after the Equifax data breach, they charged people for freezing their credit. They have waived the fee, however, they enraged the public with this near-extortion.
Also, the company set up an insecure website to assist people in determining their status. The official site is www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. However, on several occasions over the weeks following the breach, the company’s Twitter account directed people to a fake phishing site: www.securityequifax2017.com. Though all fraudulent sites have since been taken down, Equifax has been condemned for using a domain that is so easy to impersonate by phishing sites and for actually directing people to the fake site.
In all fairness, though, the company did take positive action to limit the potential damage caused by the breach. Equifax has waived the fee on credit freezes and is also offering free credit monitoring for one year.
What should I do now?
If you haven’t already done so, it’s best to take steps toward protecting your credit. Visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to determine if you’ve been targeted. If you have, consider placing a credit freeze on your accounts. This will prevent a new creditor from accessing your credit report and will stop a criminal from taking out a loan in your name.
Request and review a credit report from the three credit bureaus every few months. Look for suspicious activity and unfamiliar charges and always dispute fraudulent transactions immediately.
You can also sign up for Equifax’s credit monitoring service, but this move will only delay identity theft and other credit crimes for one year. After that, it’s your responsibility to frequently monitor your credit reports for suspicious activity.
Currently, only 11% of the victims have taken action toward protecting their credit. Don’t delay; if you haven’t taken the above steps yet, take them today!
Are my Social Security benefits at risk?
Unfortunately, when a criminal gets their hands on your personal information, one of the most heinous crimes they can commit is stealing your Social Security benefits.
If you’re receiving your monthly benefits and you’re targeted, a criminal can redirect your payments toward a new checking account and keep the money for themselves. Even if you have not yet filed for Social Security, they may access your information, file for benefits on your account, and then direct those benefits to their own address.
If that happens, when you’re ready to file and collect your benefits, you’ll find that you may have actually been receiving them for years! You will then need to prove that you’re an identity theft victim and that you are not receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Don’t let this happen to you!
If you’re already receiving benefits, monitor your payments carefully. If you miss even one payment, report it immediately. Keep all your documents from the Social Security Administration so that you can easily prove your identity.
If you haven’t yet filed for benefits, it’s equally important to preserve all related documents. That way, if you are a victim, you’ll have an easier time proving you haven’t received your benefits.
The effects of the Equifax data breach are staggering. With the proper precautionary steps, though, you can minimize its impact and keep yourself and your money safe.
Your Turn: Have you taken any measures toward protecting your credit after the Equifax data breach? Share the steps you’ve taken with us in the comments.
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