Equifax Data Breach

09/09/2017 10:17 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2017

Equifax knows you – even if you don’t know them. They are one of the three large credit bureaus that collect information on all your financial transactions from banks, credit card companies, merchants, mortgage lenders, landlords, and utilities – just about every company to which you make payments or from which you borrow.

And much of that information, on almost every adult in America, has just been exposed to hackers. The potential impact is extensive. Information gained by the hackers includes addresses, social security numbers, birth dates, drivers license numbers, and even some credit card numbers.

Equifax says it will mail information to the roughly 200,000 people whose credit card information was also stolen. The others will have to find out for themselves if they were impacted by going to the Equifax site noted below.

The only truly surprising thing about the huge breach of security at Equifax is that it took so long to happen. Equifax allows protected public access to its data to individuals seeking information about their own credit reports. That access creates greater vulnerability to a breach. Equifax knew that.

The further irony is that Equifax offers its own form of credit information monitoring and protection. Now they will be giving it away free to as many as 143 million Americans, most of the adult population of this country.

The lesson: There is no perfect security in a digital world.

Criminals have turned their attention to credit data because there is a financial incentive. Card holders and most merchants are protected from losses because of fraud. The card issuers, mostly financial institutions with deep pockets, bear the cost of fraud. And they pass it on to consumers in the form of fees and higher interest rates.

But the global network of credit fraudsters finds it easy to reap the financial benefits. Even the IRS systems have been breached, and the hackers were rewarded with an ability to collect refunds that should have gone to individual taxpayers.

What if a wealthy rogue nation state or terrorist group decided the real financial reward is in disrupting the systems that make our economy grow – our electrical grid, the Internet, our satellite navigation systems? This is no longer the stuff of thriller movies; it is on the horizon.

Meantime, here’s what to do now about the things you can control.

1. Check to see if you are an Equifax victim. Go to to www.EquifaxSecurity2017.com, and click on the “Check Potential Impact” tab. You’ll need your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to do that. You’ll receive a notification – they don’t say how or when – that you have been affected. You’ll also be given a date, likely within a few days, when you can go back to the site and sign up for their free protection service.

Special note: By signing up to see if your information was compromised, you automatically agree to an arbitration clause that would prevent you from joining a class-action lawsuit. Equifax says that “won’t apply to this breach” but they haven’t removed that clause from the site. It might be wise to simply assume you are a victim — and skip to steps 2,3, and 4 below.

2. Start checking your banking and credit information regularly. Given the fact that the breaches occurred in May and June of this year, and were not discovered until late July, and that customers were not notified until the first week in September, the hackers have a good head start. And they also can be patient.

Go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com to get your totally free copy of your credit report — from each of the three bureaus. (Or stagger viewing the reports, one now and the others every two months.) It’s not just the balances on your existing accounts that need watching. This time you are looking for newly opened accounts in your name – something that could easily be done with the information that was stolen.

Similarly, check your existing bank and credit card balances online at least weekly. And don’t file away your paper statements without opening and scanning them.

3. Don’t wait for the Equifax free credit monitoring offer. Sign up elsewhere, and pay the small price. It will be a relatively low cost compared to the benefit, if the protection company notifies you that your information is being sold on the “dark web” or has been used to open a new account in your name.

4. Consider FREEZING your credit report. To do that, contact each of the three bureaus. It will cost you a small amount to freeze, and later “un-freeze” your credit report. But it will protect against someone using your personal information to open new accounts. Of course, if you are buying life insurance, refinancing your home, buying a car, or even applying for a job – typical situations in which a credit report would be pulled – you’ll have to selectively unfreeze your report for this purpose.

· Equifax 800-685-1111

· Experian 888-397-3742

· TransUnion 888-909-8872

We all like to think that “someone” has things “under control” when it comes to the utilities our society depends on. In just one month, we’ve found that we can’t control Mother Nature, and apparently we are also vulnerable to compromise of our digital dependence.

That’s a sobering thought. But it’s also reality. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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