A large-scale attack on personally sensitive information affecting nearly half of the American population was recently announced.
On September 7, 2017, Equifax, a consumer credit reporting company, reported a data breach at the company that may have compromised sensitive information, including the social security and driver’s license numbers of 143 million American consumers.
Equifax is one of the three major American credit agencies, along with Experian and TransUnion. In July, the company discovered a weak point in their website software that exposed system files to hackers. In addition to social security and driver’s license information, the hackers may have also obtained names, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers and other documents with personal information.
Criminals can use the stolen information to impersonate victims to obtain loans, credit lines and other services.
Since the breach in July, Equifax says it’s found no evidence of unauthorized activity on its main consumer or commercial credit reporting databases. However, with nearly half of the American population affected there’s a good chance your sensitive information could be compromised.
You can see if your information may have been compromised by visiting the Equifax website and clicking on the “Check Potential Impact” button. The next page will ask that you enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. If your information was potentially compromised, you’ll receive the following message:
Equifax advises potential victims to click the enroll button to sign up for their TrustedID Premier, which is a credit monitoring system Equifax is giving away for free for a year. The identity theft protection service may help you see if your information is being used by someone else. As security experts point out though, this program provides very little solace to anybody whose information may be in the hands of criminals.
If you have little faith in Equifax’ protection, you do have a couple of other options to help protect your credit and identity. According to the Federal Trade Commission, no one can actually protect you from having your information stolen, but you can sign up for credit monitoring or identity monitoring programs.
Credit monitoring will provide alerts in the following situations:
- a company checks your credit history
- a new loan or credit card account is opened in your name
- a creditor or debt collector says your payment is late
- public records show that you’ve filed for bankruptcy
- there is a legal judgment against you
- your credit limits change
- your personal information, like your name, address, or phone number, changes
It’s important to note that there are plenty of ways thieves can use your information that won’t show up on a credit monitoring program, such as withdrawals from your bank account or using your social security number to file a tax return.
Identity monitoring watches for activity that does not show up on a credit report. You’ll receive alerts in the following situations:
- change of address requests
- court or arrest records
- orders for new utility, cable, or wireless services
- payday loan applications
- check cashing requests
- social media
- websites that identity thieves use to trade stolen information
There are also companies that provide identity recovery services and identity theft protection.
You should always pay attention to your credit report. Stay vigilant when it comes to protecting passwords and sensitive information. You can monitor your credit reports for free, and be sure to review your credit card and bank statements routinely.
If you ever feel your information may be compromised, consider requesting a credit freeze.