Equifax Breach 101
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Just when you were getting all excited because your credit score went up, THIS happened: 143 million Americans were impacted by a significant data breach at Equifax, which is one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, says Seena Gressin, an attorney with the Division of Consumer & Business Education with the United States Federal Trade Commission (the FTC). The data that was leaked included:
- Social Security Numbers (SSNs)
- Birth dates
- Driver’s license numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Credit card dispute documents
It’s not the biggest data breach in recent cyber-history (that distinction goes to Yahoo), but it might feel to you like the most terrifying because:
- Equifax has your financial information, including your entire credit history, a record of every late payment you’ve ever made, every credit card account you’ve ever held, every car lease, every mortgage, every loan for which you’ve applied, the details of every dispute you’ve ever had with a lender, and any claims, liens, or judgments against you.
- As a storehouse of Americans’ financial and credit history, Equifax also holds a lot of very personal information that identifies you as you, including your full name, any aliases, your Social Security Number, your birthday, and potentially your driver’s license number.
- You didn’t even GIVE your information to Equifax, and yet they have it! Equifax receives your information from credit card companies, banks, and other lenders (Equifax compiles the information to come up with a credit rating for you).
- The information Equifax has about you can be used not only in deciding whether to give you a loan. Your credit report is one of the most essential pieces of a background check. If the info is wrong and to your detriment, it could mean that you don’t get the job or the apartment you want.
- Equifax is one of three major credit bureaus that compiles and warehouses this information. The other two, Experian and TransUnion, have not been hacked. “Yet,” some say, and they don’t mean to sound paranoid, just realistic.
- Although this event brings up legitimate concerns about privacy, identity theft, and identity theft protection, you cannot opt out of this information-compiling system unless you never want to lease a car, rent an apartment, and possibly get another job.
But try to remain calm. You’ve got this, especially now that you’ve got this handy outline of what you can do going forward to respond to this particular event, as well as a primer on how to prevent identity theft and protect your data and your money from wannabe thieves.
Was your data impacted?
Equifax created a dedicated website where consumers are theoretically able to learn whether they were impacted. That said, you’ll need to log in, which involves providing the last six digits of your Social Security Number (SSN).
“No big deal,” you might say, if you routinely give out the last four digits of your SSN. But there are a number of caveats to be aware of:
- Your Social Security Number is a nine-digit number, the first four digits of which are tied to where you lived when you (or your parents) applied for your number; the next two digits are a “group number” within the geographical location; and the last four digits are your serial number. Here’s more information about how much your SSN reveals about you.
- Since where you were born isn’t all that hard for cybercriminal to suss out, it’s really only the last four digits of your SSN that stand between you and all the problems you’re trying to avoid by reading this article.
- Equifax is not asking for the last four digits; they’re asking for the last six.
- Equifax was already hacked once. No, wait, they’ve actually been hacked more than once. We’re not saying that should make you wary of trusting Equifax with your information, especially since there’s nothing you can do about them having most of the information they have on you. We’re just saying that maybe you should consider their history of protecting your personal, identifying information before voluntarily handing over still more personal, identifying information.
- Every single person we spoke to who has handed those digits over to Equifax in the hopes of determining whether their data was compromised has received the same message, which we paraphrase here: “Maybe.”
A bankruptcy attorney in New York that we spoke to said he’d be shocked if Equifax would ever volunteer to an individual that his info had been hacked. “An individual who knows for certain his data’s been hacked can theoretically blame Equifax for almost anything that happens to him going forward, from getting a lousy rate on his mortgage to getting turned down for his dream job.” Leaving it as “maybe” leaves Equifax open to less liability. Here are the times you should never give your social security number out.
Therefore, perhaps you’d be better off simply assuming you were impacted and then taking the following steps.