The Equifax Breach: A Wakeup Call for Consumers and Businesses

October 06, 2017

There’s a good chance some of your personal information has been compromised. Over the summer, an Equifax data breach exposed the personal details of 143 million Americans. As a result, a large percentage of the U.S. population may be vulnerable to identity theft.

Equifax is a major credit reporting agency, one of the three biggest in the country. Any American with a credit report is a possible victim of this data breach. The hackers accessed Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses. In some cases, they also accessed driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers.

To determine whether you were affected by the data breach, go to equifaxsecurity2017.com.

Regardless of what you learn at the Equifax site, you should take some basic steps to protect yourself against identity theft. Although the Equifax breach is notable because of the sheer number of individuals affected, Equifax is only one of many companies to suffer a breach in recent years. With so many cybersecurity incidents occurring, everyone should be vigilant against the threat of identity theft.

Here are some steps you should take:

  1. Check your credit report. You have the right to access a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Review your credit report for any discrepancies, including accounts you do not remember opening.
  2. Monitor your credit and bank accounts. If you notice unusual activity, notify your bank or lender immediately.
  3. Protect yourself online. Although your information may be exposed during company data breaches, you can safeguard it at other times. Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments you don’t trust. Beware of phishing email scams from fraudsters posing as legitimate businesses. Use secure, unique passwords and change them regularly. Install antivirus and firewall software on your computer. The FBI offers additional information on internet safety.   
  4. Issue a fraud alert. If you have reason to suspect that your personal information has been compromised, you can contact any of the three credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your file. This can help prevent identity thieves from opening accounts in your name. The Federal Trade Commission provides more details on how to do this.
  5. Consider a credit freeze. This is a more extreme option. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. This makes it very difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your names, but it also makes it difficult for you to open new accounts or do anything else that requires a credit report. If you are interested in starting a credit freeze, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s Credit Freeze FAQs for more details.

While this breach affected consumers, businesses should worry about cyber security as well. This is a wakeup call. If Equifax was vulnerable, then your business is too, and the ramifications of a data breach are extremely expensive. In fact, cybercrime is now one of the greatest risks facing businesses of all sizes. Ask your Heffernan agent about the insurance options available to help protect your business.