Unless you spent September camped out on a deserted tropical island, you have probably heard or read at least some of the unending media coverage of the Equifax data breach. On September 7, 2017, Equifax announced that between mid-May and July 2017, a massive data breach occurred which potentially exposed the credit files of 143 million U.S. consumers.
If your personal identifying information was stolen, it would be just as valuable to thieves 20 years from now as it is today.
A second announcement on October 2, 2017, revealed that Equifax initially underestimated the number of exposed consumers. The company disclosed that an additional 2.5 million consumers may have had their personal information stolen during the breach, bringing the grand total to 145.5 million U.S. consumers potentially affected. As of March 1, 2018, the number is closer to 150 million.
What Exactly Was Stolen?
Unfortunately, the type of information compromised during Equifax's data breach could potentially leave you exposed to identity theft for many years. Although approximately 209,000 consumers did have their credit card numbers exposed, the potential theft of credit card information is not what should concern you most about this breach. Credit card numbers can be easily changed and you cannot be held responsible for fraudulent charges if they occur, if you report the fraud to your card issuer promptly. You should, however, be concerned about the personal information made vulnerable during the breach.
Equifax announced the information accessed by hackers during the breach includes a troubling amount of personal identifying information. Names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and even some driver's license numbers were exposed. Information of this type is not easily changed, like a credit card number. Instead, if your personal identifying information was stolen, it would be just as valuable to thieves 20 years from now as it is today.
Does One More Data Breach Really Matter?
Equifax is by no means the first company to experience a data breach. In fact, PrivacyRights.org reports that over 156 million consumer records have potentially been compromised in the 400+ data breaches reported so far during this year alone. However, you should not allow the fact that data breaches occur frequently to lull you into a sense of apathy.
You may be angry, like many other consumers, that Equifax could make a mistake of this magnitude and allow such a large number of consumers to be exposed. Unfortunately, there is no way to put the toothpaste back into the tube. If your data has been compromised what you need now is a plan.
Finding Out If You Were Impacted
It has always been important to check your three credit reports for errors and potential signs of fraud. That importance has certainly been magnified in light of the Equifax breach, but it really is nothing new. You should routinely check all three of your credit reports with Equifax, Trans Union and Experian for any information that seems suspicious or incorrect. Unauthorized credit inquiries, unfamiliar accounts and addresses, or incorrect balances could all be potential signs of fraudulent activity, which need to be addressed. Remember, you can claim a free copy of all three of your credit reports once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can claim a free copy of all three of your credit reports once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Equifax has also provided a website where you can check to see if your information may have been compromised during the breach. If you discover that your information has been impacted then you should probably consider taking advantage of additional credit protections such as fraud alerts or credit freezes. These protections in combination with frequent self credit checks across all three credit bureaus is going to offer you the best possible chance of avoiding identity theft.