Consumers and Businesses Worry About Security After Equifax Breach

A Social Security number is one of the most important pieces of personal information. And it’s often the only information a criminal needs to steal your identity. Organizations that have your Social Security number on file go to great efforts to protect your privacy – or at least they should.

In September, credit bureau Equifax announced a data breach that occurred from mid-May to July, in which hackers accessed personal information of 143 million people in the United States. Hackers also stole credit card numbers for 209,000 people and intercepted documents that contained the personal information of another 182,000 people. Equifax knew of the breach for a month before announcing it publicly – and the breach was reportedly not its first.

Earlier in 2017, hackers targeted Equifax’s human resources and payroll service. Equifax says the breaches are unrelated, but the earlier breach definitely highlighted a weakness in its cybersecurity. Consequently, the Massachusetts attorney general sued Equifax for negligence in dealing with security threats and investigating software vulnerability, exposing consumers to risk of identity theft.

Tips for Those Affected

If you don’t know whether your personal data was compromised, it’s best to assume it was, so you can take steps to protect yourself. What makes the Equifax breach so dangerous is that criminals could, at any time, open accounts in your name, steal your tax refund or benefits, and deplete your bank accounts. If any of those things should happen, identity theft victims must go to great lengths to undo the damage.

Equifax is offering free credit monitoring, called TrustedID, for a year. Dave Lieber, “The Watchdog Columnist” for The Dallas Morning News, says people should not sign up for TrustedID, because Equifax has already proven it is lax about security. Plus, after a year, Equifax begins charging the customers for the service.

A better approach is to contact Equifax and the other major credit bureaus – TransUnion and Experian – to request a credit freeze. A freeze has no impact on your current credit; it just keeps anyone from establishing new credit in your name. If you freeze your credit, you’ll need to “unfreeze” it if you want to apply for a loan or some other type of credit.

If you’d prefer to not freeze your credit, you can request fraud alerts through each credit bureau. With an active fraud alert, creditors or lenders must take steps to verify your identify if you attempt to open a new account. So, for example, if you applied for a car loan online through your bank, you might receive a phone call asking you to verify your security information.

Credit freezes last indefinitely. An initial fraud alert expires after 90 days, so if you go that route, don’t forget to renew it. Hackers could be sitting on personal information and waiting for people to let their guard down.

Good Housekeeping

In general, everyone should look at their credit reports from each major credit bureau once per year. Victims of identity theft often are alerted to the crime only when they see unauthorized accounts on their credit reports.

Parents can also issue a credit freeze for their children. As unlikely as it seems, hackers have been able to steal children’s personal information and open accounts in their name, and that activity often goes on for years before it’s discovered.

Lusk Law, LLC, specializes in helping businesses plan for the future. Should an outside threat cause a disruption in operations, our attorneys can advise you how best to proceed, and we can represent you in court, if necessary. Our experienced attorneys have provided legal counsel and representation to entrepreneurs in Frederick County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County, Washington County, Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County, and other counties in Maryland. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.

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