Is Your Personal and Financial Information Safe?
In September of this year, Equifax, one of the “big three” credit reporting bureaus in the US, announced their servers had been subject to a massive security breach, compromising the personal data of roughly 145.5 million Americans – that’s nearly half the population of the United States.
Exposed sensitive data included names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers. All this despite the fact that Equifax offers consumers services to monitor fraudulent activity and cyber threats – oh the irony.
According to an anonymous cybersecurity researcher, Equifax was made aware of their vulnerabilities six months before the hacks and did nothing. Consumer data was available via a publicly-accessible, internal-like website – all a visitor had to do was perform a search within the website to gain access to millions of records. The researcher claimed every record could be downloaded in as little as 10 minutes.
For a company that handles millions of sensitive records that, in the wrong hands, could wreak havoc on an individual’s personal finances – indeed, the entire US economy, Equifax did not put much stock in cybersecurity.
In light of the massive, and completely preventable, Equifax breach, how can consumers protect their personal and financial information?
Under normal circumstances, you can protect yourself from fraudulent activities by routinely monitoring all financial accounts, including checking and savings accounts and credit cards, for suspicious transactions and reviewing your credit report annually – you can access your credit report for free and without penalty once per year. If you come across any dubious purchases or accounts, you can report them to the appropriate financial institution or file a dispute with a credit reporting agency.
That’s under normal circumstances – you know, when large financial institutions act responsibly. Given the magnitude of the Equifax breach, though, protection may require more extreme measures, such as freezing your credit report before the appearance of fraudulent activity. The process of freezing your credit is a hassle; however, criminals can use your sensitive data to usurp current accounts, open new accounts, file fake tax returns, rent or buy properties in your name, and more.
Considering there’s about a 50 percent chance your personal and financial data was compromised, freezing your credit could save you a lot of heartache. To freeze your credit, you must contact the three major credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – separately.
You’ll need to provide your full name, current address coupled with proof of address (e.g. utility bill), date of birth, social security number, copy of a valid ID, and payment. Note: for identity theft victims, credit freezes are free and for all others the cost can range from about $5 to $20 per action. Once your request is received, the credit bureaus will provide you with a PIN number. Keep this safe – you will use your PIN to temporarily or permanently unfreeze your credit.
Though you will be unable to open new lines of credit or financial accounts or take out a loan while your credit is frozen, criminals will be unable to do the same. Freezing your credit might be a nuisance, but the fight to overcome identity theft can cost you your livelihood.
For those whose debt is self-inflicted, New Era Debt Solutions may be able to help. New Era is a debt settlement company that helps people dramatically reduce their debt obligation and become debt-free. Since 1999, we’ve settled over $200 million in debt for our clients. To see if debt settlement is right for you, contact us or fill out the form on this page for your free debt analysis.