Equifax Undergoes Massive Data Breach, Making Identity Theft Top of Mind for Many Americans
An online security breach at one of America’s three leading consumer credit reporting agencies has led to widespread fear about the possibility of stolen identities. With as many as 143 million people potentially affected, the repercussions of this data breach may not be fully realized for quite some time.
Rod Murray, Group Senior Vice President of Commercial Banking for Illinois, Texas, Indiana and Ohio at Associated Bank, recommends taking precautions, as a result of this information exploitation. He said first and foremost, he plans to place a freeze on his credit report.
First Step to Protecting Yourself
“… It’s the first thing this consumer is doing,” Murray said. “… The chances are, you have to assume – even if you haven’t checked it – you’re probably affected. So locking down the credit is what I’m doing right now and have started to do.”
Locking your credit report means most lenders will not have access to your credit score or history for the duration of the lock. With a lock in place, fraudulent accounts can’t be opened in your name.
Equifax recently announced it is waiving some fees related to protective measures like this one. However, consumers should likely consider freezing their credit with the other two major credit reporting agencies Experian and TransUnion as well Murray notes.
A lock on your reports won’t affect your normal use of credit, Murray notes.
“It shouldn’t affect your day-to-day use of your credit cards; it shouldn’t affect your day-to-day life in any way, shape or form,” Murray said. “What it changes though, is you have to remember if you’re going to apply for a new car loan or a mortgage … (or apply) for a new job, where the application taker is going to pull a credit bureau (report) on you. You (then) have to know how to unfreeze or thaw that for that period of time and then know how to refreeze your credit once that action or that takes place.”
What Else Can You Do?
In addition to the credit freeze, another option is to subscribe to credit fraud monitoring.
“There’s a couple levels,” Murray said. “There’s the monitoring piece of it, which has a shorter sunset period to it than the freeze, and depending on which state you live in, the monitoring period might only be a year or so and then you extend it, which you’ll want to do. The freeze lasts a little bit longer. I believe, say, in certain cases it can be seven years.”
“But when you do that, one thing is making sure you do it with all three … it’s not just Equifax, there’s Experian and TransUnion as well. You need to do all three on anything that you’re doing. One doesn’t protect you.”
Scope Continues to be Determined
The scope of this continues to be discussed and determined by financial experts. The amount of information gained is substantial; credit bureaus typically retain names, birthdates, social security numbers and potentially even driver’s license numbers in some cases.
“This is going to be with you for the rest of your life and probably a little bit after,” Murray said. “It’s that big. You see the lawsuits piling up, I think at last check there’s 30 – that’s just the beginning of the civil lawsuits. And then what about your day-to-day (life)?”
Some estimates have placed the financial devastation of the breach at a trillion dollars.
“A trillion dollars, is that number high, low, medium, I mean who knows?” Murray said. “I know that’s a guess at this point. That’s a big number and is that even the right number, knowing that again they have everything, they have your social security number, they have your driver’s license in some cases, I mean this is with Equifax it’s not that we’re clients, this is their product it’s everything, it’s not just a client-centric thing, it’s the product that they deliver so it affects everything almost that’s touched out there. There’s no way usually to get credit, usually to get a job, etc. without having your credit bureau (report) pulled.”
With a breach of this scale, the question has been asked by some consumers whether enough monitoring of credit reporting agencies is in place.
“On whether or not the three (credit reporting agencies) have created an oligopoly or the too-big-to-fail (type of institution), maybe,” Murray said. “But … it certainly seems it’s unregulated, and that’s going to change for sure now.”
“…But frankly yeah, it’s too little too late at this point,” Murray said. “That being said, I’m talking about everybody that has it now; we have to protect those in the future: our kids (and) our grandkids on how they’re going to apply for credit and how it’s going to be monitored and protected.”