The Equifax hack is considered as one of the largest data breaches in the US and might put millions of Americans at risk of identity theft.
On Thursday, Equifax stated that its system has been breached exposing the birthdays, addresses, SS numbers, and phone numbers of its millions of consumers.
Because SS numbers and personal data of millions of consumers are exposed, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said that states would work together so the credit monitoring company would be held responsible.
The coordinated effort would resemble that of the consumer cases, which states joined lawsuits. One of them is the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Over the years, massive breaches of consumer data are common. But this situation is different because of the sheer amount of data stolen.
Should people stop using Social Security Number as their national ID?
In the US, SS numbers are used for tax returns, medical records, etc. Unfortunately, the codes aren’t a secure form of ID.
That is, if the numbers get stolen, they can’t be changed easily. Thus, if there’s a breach, it’s no longer secure. But if we’re going to change it, what could we use to replace it as a universal ID?
You can determine whether or not your data were exposed by going to equifaxsecurity2017.com. But using this method is tricky.
The reason for this is that the site looks like a fraud website. It runs on WordPress and its URL is different from the main site of the company.
In fact, some browsers are providing phishing warnings to visitors because of the site’s back-end configuration issues. To add more, the site would ask for your SS number to verify whether or not your account has been breached, which is a sign of a malicious website.
Fortunately, though, equifaxsecurity2017.com is an authentic site of Equifax.
Half of Americans are vulnerable because of this data breach. That said, experts recommend consumers to be on guard now. In this way, they can prevent ruining their future financial lives.
If you’re worried about the Equifax hack, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Check free credit reports
You can request a free copy of your credit report every year from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. By requesting such report, you’ll know whether or not someone made a request for your credit.
Unfortunately, the report won’t tell if someone stole money from your bank account or there’s unauthorized access to your credit card.
2. Monitor credit card and banking activities
Once a week, make sure to check your banking and credit card activities. If you detected a problem, you could stop it ASAP.
Also, make sure to monitor your checking statements regularly. If you don’t have time to do so, you could hire a financial adviser or a family lawyer to do it on your behalf.
Apart from your banking and credit card activities, you should also monitor your insurance and medical bills. Doing so will help you make sure that no one is impersonating you.
If someone is impersonating you, your medical records could end up with another person’s blood type putting you in a complicated and dangerous situation.
3. Set up alerts
Contact your bank and credit agencies and set up alerts. In this way, each time your account is used, you’ll be notified. The credit agencies would also tell you if someone applies for a credit card in your name. The alerts can last up to 90 days, but you can renew it.
4. Register an account for credit monitoring or identity theft protection service
This kind of service notifies you each time a company checks your credit history. It also alerts you if a new loan or credit card is opened under your name.
Plus, it monitors and alerts you if public records reveal that you’ve filed for bankruptcy or that a creditor stated you’re late in paying your debts.
But don’t depend on this service too much. The reason for this is that this service can only track your credit reports. That said, you won’t get alerts if there are suspicious activities on your credit or bank accounts.
However, you can sign up with monitoring services that include identity theft protection. In here, it alerts you if your data are used in ways that won’t show up on your credit report. This service can track utility and cable bills, as well as social media and loan applications.
5 Freeze your credit
Before you do so, make sure that you’ve exhausted all other tips we’ve mentioned above. Freezing your credit might not be necessary. However, it could help in blocking someone from accessing your credit reports without your authorization.
Then again, if you freeze your account, you need to contact the reporting agency should you need to take out a loan or are opening a new credit card. It’s also very inconvenient because there are fees involved and they vary from one state to another.
Now, if you received a notice from the IRS about not paying taxes, you must never ignore it. There’s a huge possibility that someone utilized your SS number just to get a job.
That is, the taxes you paid based on your current employment status would look deficient. It’s also vital to remember that the IRS doesn’t call over the phone and ask for your personal information.
So, if you received a call from a person introducing himself/herself from the IRS, you must hang up.
How to prevent future breaches?
We don’t know yet what errors Equifax made that led to the massive breach. Furthermore, no one knows for sure if the breach is the result of a mistake made by the company.
That said, experts have difficulty answering how this kind of breach could have been prevented.
The problem with Equifax is that it doesn’t have a direct relationship with these consumers. They can’t send out emails telling them their accounts have been breached. Thus, they rely on those millions of people who visit their site and check their data for themselves.
In this case, security services are suggesting that now is the time to treat this kind of company different from other businesses. That is, they have to think about the policy change that could make a difference in the future.