Identity Theft Article


The Equifax Personal Data Breach

Why have I been hearing so much about “Equifax” recently?

A company called Equifax announced in September that it had been the target of a deliberate cyber-security breach this past summer. Hackers accessed the private information of almost 150 million American consumers. The personal data exposed included consumers’ full names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and, in some cases, even credit card numbers and driver license numbers.

What is Equifax?

Equifax is a private consumer credit reporting agency.

What is a credit reporting agency?


A credit reporting agency is a company that collects and sells to other companies information about your credit history in the form of a credit report. The three major credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

What is my credit history?


Your credit history is the history of how you use money.

If you have (or have had) a loan from a bank or other financial institution, then you have a credit history. If you have (or have had) a credit card, then you have a credit history. If you have (or have had) utility and other bills to pay, then you have a credit history.

What is my credit report?


Your credit report is a summary of your credit history.

Your credit report contains such information as:

    •  your name
    •  your address
    •  your Social Security number
    •  all of your credit cards
    •  all of your loans
    •  how much money you owe
    •  whether or not you tend to pay your bills on time

What is the purpose of my credit report?

Your credit report helps companies determine whether or not (and in what amount and at what rate) they will lend you money. Your credit report also helps companies and individuals determine whether or not to hire you or rent you an apartment. (A person with a poor credit history may not appear to be an ideal employee or tenant.)

Can I see my credit report?

Yes. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you may obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year.

To obtain a free copy of your credit report, you may visit Annual Credit Report on line at  https://www.annualcreditreport.com or call Annual Credit Report by telephone at 1 (877) 322-8228.

What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act and how is it meant to protect me?


The Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681) is intended to promote the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of the personal data compiled by consumer credit reporting agencies such as Equifax.

Under the FCRA, you have the right to (among other things):

    •  know what information your credit report contains
    •  be told if information in your credit report has been used against you (for example, in order to deny an application for credit, insurance, or employment)
    •  dispute incomplete or inaccurate information in your credit report
    •  prevent a prospective employer from receiving your credit report (although if you deny a prospective employer its request for permission to conduct a background check, you probably will not be hired)
    •  sue any credit reporting agency that violates your rights under the FCRA

How can I learn whether any of my personal data was exposed during the cyberattack against Equifax?

IMPORTANT NOTE


*****

Whenever you access your personal data on line, you should always use a secure computer (see: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0009-computer-security) and an encrypted network connection (see: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0014-tips-using-public-wi-fi-networks).

*****

Using a secure computer and an encrypted network connection, you may determine whether any of your personal data was exposed during the cyberattack against Equifax by visiting the following webpage and entering your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/am-i-impacted.

Why should I care about whether my personal data was breached?

If your personal data was exposed, you could become the victim of identity theft.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the use of a consumer’s personal data without that consumer’s permission.

An identity thief uses a consumer’s personal data in order to impersonate (pretend to be) that consumer. An identity thief may do this for the purpose of accessing a bank or retirement account, opening a credit card, or obtaining a loan. When an identity thief withdraws money or makes an expensive purchase or opens a cell phone account or takes out a loan or even gets medical care while pretending to be someone else, the consumer whose identity was stolen may have their credit history ruined.

At a time when so many financial transactions take place through remote electronic communications, identity theft is easier than ever before.

What signs should I look for?


Once you have access to your credit report, you should look for (among other things):

    •  incorrect personal information
    •  missing funds
    •  unexpected or unfamiliar charges or payments
    •  incorrect credit amounts
    •  accounts that were not opened by you
    •  credit inquiries from companies or individuals that you have never contacted

What should I do if I think I am a victim of identity theft?

If you think you are a victim of identity theft, you should immediately:

    1. Contact every financial institution or lender with which you do business to report the     suspicious activity and ask that your accounts be suspended.

    2. Contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, or     TransUnion – and have an initial fraud alert placed on your credit report.

        Equifax: https://www.alerts.equifax.com
        Experian: https://www.experian.com/fraud
        TransUnion: https://fraud.transunion.com

    3. Visit https://identitytheft.gov to report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission and obtain and initiate a personal recovery plan.

What may I do to make identity theft less likely?

In addition to consistently reviewing your credit report and keeping careful track of your financial transactions and related accounts, you also may “freeze” your credit.

What is a “credit freeze”?

A credit freeze (or “security freeze” or “credit report freeze”) prevents lenders and other companies and individuals from accessing a consumer’s credit report. It essentially locks them out. As a result, any identity thief who tries to obtain a credit card or a bank loan in the name of another person will be unlikely to succeed in that attempt, because the lender will be unable to check that person’s credit.

How can I freeze my credit?

In order to freeze your credit, you must contact each credit reporting agency separately. Not only Equifax, but also Experian and TransUnion. (There are smaller credit reporting agencies too.)

What does a credit freeze not do?

A credit freeze does not guarantee protection from identity theft because not all identity theft results from access to a credit report.

What are some of the drawbacks?


The drawbacks of freezing your credit include:

    •  you must contact each credit reporting agency separately
    •  each credit reporting agency will require you to remember and use a unique PIN number in order to freeze and unfreeze your credit
    •   having frozen credit can make applying for certain services (such as a cell phone or utilities) very difficult
    •  once a freeze is placed on your credit, it can take a long time to have that freeze removed

Further information

For further information, please visit https://www.consumer.gov.

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