According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 17 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014, and that number continues to grow each year. Anything with your name and address, bank account details, credit card information (current or expired), Social Security number, pay stub information, usernames or passwords, or even your signature makes you vulnerable to identity theft, which is why document shredders are so invaluable to keep your information safe.
I have presented at wealth management client events in four different cities this week. The Equifax breach is on people’s minds all over the country. To help protect yourself, please read my last blog about credit report freezes. Also, I found a great website that provides a list of the cost to freeze in each state. Here it is:
On September 7, 2017, Equifax announced a huge data breach that may affect as many 143 million Americans. Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The breach is very serious because it most likely involves social security numbers, which are the ley to stealing a person’s identity. If you are affected, you will probably receive a communication from Equifax about steps you can take to protect your identity. They may offer you free credit report monitoring to help prevent fraud.
Here are some things you should know:
The breach already occurred at some point in the past, we are just hearing about it now.
The criminals may already have your information and could use it at any time to commit fraud.
Credit report monitoring does not prevent fraud, it provides a notification to you when fraud occurs.
Your best option to prevent fraud is to freeze your credit reports. Here is more information about that, taken from a chapter in my newest book about identity theft and cybercrime which is available on this website.
Credit Freeze: A total lockdown of new account activity in your name and a proven way to protect against identity theft. Freezing prevents third parties from accessing your credit report, with some exceptions.
To explain, let’s take a hypothetical example. A crook obtains your social security number and other information about you and attempts to open a credit card account in your name. The credit card company will run a credit check on you (because your identity is being used) before the credit card is issued in your name, to the crook. If your credit report is frozen, the credit card company cannot get access to your credit report. If they can’t see your reports, they will not approve the credit card application. You might see that freezing your credit reports is a rock-solid way to prevent further fraud if you have been a victim of identity theft. Even if you have not been victimized, freezing your reports can be used to prevent fraud from occurring preemptively. You don’t have to be a victim of identity theft to freeze your credit reports, anyone can do it.
If you do freeze your credit reports, the only drawback is that you must unfreeze your credit reports if you are engaging in activity that requires a credit check. Credit freeze laws and costs vary by state. To check yours, go to your state Attorney General’s website and search for “credit report freezes.”
Credit monitoring company Equifax has been hit by a high-tech heist that exposed the Social Security numbers and other sensitive information about 143 million Americans. Now the unwitting victims have to worry about the threat of having their identities stolen.
The Atlanta-based company, one of three major U.S. credit bureaus, said Thursday that “criminals” exploited a U.S. website application to access files between mid-May and July of this year.
The theft obtained consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. The purloined data can be enough for crooks to hijack the identities of people whose credentials were stolen through no fault of their own, potentially wreaking havoc on their lives. Equifax said its core credit-reporting databases don’t appear to have been breached.
“On a scale of one to 10, this is a 10 in terms of potential identity theft,” said Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan. “Credit bureaus keep so much data about us that affects almost everything we do.”
Lenders rely on the information collected by the credit bureaus to help them decide whether to approve financing for homes, cars and credit cards. Credit checks are even sometimes done by employers when deciding whom to hire for a job.
Equifax discovered the hack July 29, but waited until Thursday to warn consumers. The Atlanta-based company declined to comment on that delay or anything else beyond its published statement. It’s not unusual for U.S. authorities to ask a company hit in a major hack to delay public notice so that investigators can pursue the perpetrators.
The company established a website, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ , where people can check to see if their personal information may have been stolen. Consumers can also call 866-447-7559 for more information. Experian is also offering free credit monitoring to all U.S. consumers for a year.
“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do,” Equifax CEO Richard Smith said in a statement. “I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes.”
This isn’t the biggest data breach in history. That indignity still belongs to Yahoo, which was targeted in at least two separate digital burglaries that affected more than 1 billion of its users’ accounts throughout the world.
But no Social Security numbers or drivers’ license information were disclosed in the Yahoo break-in.
Equifax’s security lapse could be the largest theft involving Social Security numbers, one of the most common methods used to confirm a person’s identity in the U.S. It eclipses a 2015 hack at health insurer Anthem Inc. that involved the Social Security numbers of about 80 million people .
Any data breach threatens to tarnish a company’s reputation, but it is especially mortifying for Equifax, whose entire business revolves around providing a clear financial profile of consumers that lenders and other businesses can trust.
“This really undermines their credibility,” Litan said. It also could undermine the integrity of the information stockpiled by two other major credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, since they hold virtually all the data that Equifax does, Litan said.
Equifax’s stock dropped 13 percent to $124.10 in extended trading after its announcement of the breach.
Three Equifax executives sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered it had been hacked, according to documents filed with securities regulators.
The sales, executed on August 1 and August 2, were made by: John Gamble, Equifax’s chief financial officer; Rodolfo Ploder, Equifax’s president of workforce solutions; and Joseph Loughran, Equifax’s president of U.S. information solutions. Bloomberg News first reported the divestitures.
In a subsequent statement, Equifax said the three executives “had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time they sold their shares.”
The potential aftershocks of the Equifax breach should make it clear that Social Security numbers are becoming an unreliable way to verify a person’s identity, Nathaniel Gleicher, the former director of cybersecurity policy in the White House during the Obama administration, said in an email statement.
“This breach might just have put the nail in the coffin of the idea that we can use personal identifiers like Social Security numbers as security factors,” wrote Gleicher, who now oversees cybersecurity strategy for computer security firm Illumio.
In addition to the personal information stolen in its breach, Equifax said the credit card numbers for about 209,000 U.S. consumers were also taken, as were “certain dispute documents” containing personal information for approximately 182,000 U.S. individuals.
Equifax warned that hackers also may have some “limited personal information” about British and Canadian residents. The company doesn’t believe that consumers from any other countries were affected.