A third of Americans are unaware of whether their personal information was compromised in last year’s Equifax data breach. Here’s how to check
Many Americans aren’t on high alert when it comes to monitoring their cybersecurity.
A year after the Equifax data breach exposed sensitive data from passports, driver’s licenses, addresses, credit card information and social security numbers belonging to millions of Americans, a new report by student loan refinancing company LendEDU found that while 73% of people realize they could have been impacted, 37% have still not checked to see if they were affected. And experts suggest this response comes out of financial fear, or a misguided sense of security.
“They could be wary to see what is on the other side if they do check, like closing your eyes to a scary movie,” Michael Brown, the research analyst behind the survey, told Moneyish. “[Or] it was such a massive occurrence that some consumers are thinking, ‘There is no way that I could be one of the victims of this.’ In other words, they are looking at the Equifax breach as a news story, rather than an event that could have a direct impact on them.”
Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., revealed it suffered a cybersecurity breach between March and July 2017 that allowed hackers to access roughly 145.5 million U.S. consumers’ private data and at least 209,000 consumers’ credit card credentials. One year later, LendEDU polled Americans about their response — finding that among those who’d checked to see if they were hit by the cyber attack, more than a third (35%) indicated their information was indeed compromised. Of that percentage, 30% said they took legal action, while 53% said they would like to.
There have been 36,045 complaints filed against Equifax on the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database since last year’s cyberattack. Of those complaints, 98% pertained to credit reporting issues, the survey found. And it’s still not too late to take action, Brown noted.
“If your data has been compromised, there are two main options you can act upon: First, you can freeze your credit, which will stop all access to your credit information, but will still allow you to maintain a credit score and ward off hackers,” Brown said. “Second, you can take Equifax up on their offer of one year of free credit monitoring, which will allow you to know if someone else is using your personal information in a fraudulent manner.”
At the time of the cyberattack, the credit bureau reported that the criminals exploited a weak point in its website application to access certain files, and that some personal information for British and Canadian residents was also hacked. Equifax said it wouldn’t contact everyone who was affected, and instead sent direct mail notices to those whose credit card numbers or dispute records were compromised. It also offered free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring.
There have been strings attached, however. Initially, anyone getting the protective service wouldn’t be allowed to sue, join a class-action suit or benefit from any class-action settlement. Equifax responded to the public backlash from this with a provision that you can opt out of the arbitration requirement by notifying Equifax in writing within 30 days of accepting the monitoring service.
This wasn’t even the largest data breach in history. In September 2016, Yahoo revealed that 500 million user accounts had been compromised in 2014, and then revealed three months later that a separate 2013 attack hacked more than 1 billion accounts.
But the Equifax hack has been especially troubling considering it handles data on more than 820 million consumers and more than 91 million businesses around the world, not to mention a database of more than 7,100 employees.
“There’s no need to panic, but there are definitely some things you can do to take control of the situation, at least to some degree,” Matt Schulz, then CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst, previously told Moneyish.
Check your credit report. You’re allowed a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) every year at Annualcreditreport.com. “That’s where you’re able to see any accounts that have been created using your name and Social Security number that you didn’t know about,” said Schulz. If anything looks amiss, report it to the credit agency immediately, but be patient and persistent. “There are going to be an awful lot of people reaching out to them right now,” Schulz said. And Equifax invited customers to enroll in complimentary TrustedID Premier identity theft protection and credit file monitoring.
Place fraud alerts on your credit reports. This will require a lender to contact you to verify your identity before it issues any credit in your name. Just contact one of the credit agencies to set up the free alert, and it will notify the other two. This will last for 90 days, and can be renewed.
Check your bank and credit card statements. The same rules apply — look for any suspicious charges over the past several months if you haven’t been monitoring them regularly already. Then report any suspicious charges, and cancel your compromised card for a new one.
Take internet subscription inventory. Just how many services (Netflix, Amazon, Spotify) do you have linked with your bank account or credit cards? Now is a good time to create a file of what services are linked to what financial accounts, and to make sure you have strong, separate passwords for each one. Moneyish has some password strengthening tips here. Plus, if you have to start canceling cards, you’ll have a list handy of which services will need your payment information updated.
Make a habit of checking your accounts. So your accounts look clean now. But keep in mind that many hackers are patient and bide their time before exploiting your stolen information. “Honestly, the threat of fraud never passes,” said Schulz. “It’s really important that you stay vigilant. If you have got time to check Facebook several times a day, you’ve got time to keep a closer eye on your credit card statements and bank accounts.” Plus, the more you check them, the more familiar you get with them — and the easier it is to keep tabs on your finances.
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