Your credit may be at risk. Learn more about the impact of this epic data breach.
In September 2017, Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus, announced it suffered a data breach that comprised approximately 148 million people’s sensitive private information. The compromised information included names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. In more than 200,000 cases, credit card numbers were compromised, and in about 182,000 cases, documents that contained personal identifying information were breached.
While the Equifax breach isn’t the largest one to ever take place, it was still unprecedented due to the very sensitive nature of the information that was compromised.
Chances are, at some point in time, you’ve been the victim of a data breach. In this post, we will walk you through the dangers of data breaches and how to check whether or not your information was compromised.
The ABCs of data breaches
The Equifax data breach is significant because it happened to a credit bureau, a type of company that collects your financial data from creditors, analyzes it, and produces your credit report and credit score.The data collected by credit bureaus, such as social security numbers and account information, are highly sensitive. Hackers can use that information to open fraudulent accounts in your name or steal your identity—or sell it to someone who wants to do the same. For example, they may open credit cards or utility accounts in your name, run up bills, and then abandon them.
This kind of fraudulent activity can tank your credit score, which is a tool creditors, such as banks, use to decide whether or not you qualify for certain financial products, such as loans. This, in turn, can lead to financial ruin.
The danger behind data breaches
Those who are just starting to build their credit or have lower credit scores may be more vulnerable than others. It doesn’t take much to ruin a credit score, and when this happens, it can make it even more difficult for victims to qualify for things like loans, mobile phone plans, rent applications, and even certain jobs.
Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States. According to a report from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2018 there were more than 444,000 cases of identity theft in the United States, a 15% increase from 2017.
You’ve likely heard advice about how to protect your information online: Don’t give out personal identifying information. Never send your social security number to sources you can’t identify or don’t trust. Use complex passwords and don’t use the same password on multiple sites. But in the case of this Equifax breach, there really isn’t anything you could have done to protect yourself. Credit bureaus collect your information as a matter of course, and there really isn’t a way for consumers like you to opt out of them.
How to check your breach status
The easiest way to check if you were one of the thousands of Americans affected by the Equifax data breach is to visit this settlement eligibility page, the official page of the settlement that is run by the settlement administrator, not Equifax. There, you will input your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. With this information, the settlement tool will be able to tell you whether or not you were impacted by the breach — that is, whether or not your information was compromised.
I was impacted. Now what?
In July 2019, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the FTC announced a $700 million settlement with Equifax, which would offer monetary relief to those impacted by the breach. As of September 2019, the settlement had not been finalized or approved by the courts, but the FTC’s website and Equifax breach settlement site has information to help people determine if they are potentially eligible for compensation or if there are other options available to them. There are deadlines associated with the various options available.
Continue to monitor your credit
In the meantime, it’s always important to monitor your own credit reports, which you can do for free once a year. If you notice suspicious activity and think your identity may have been stolen, check out this post.
Jessica Easto is a writer and editor based in Chicago. Her primary areas of expertise include personal finance, risk management, and small business. Her book Craft Coffee: A Manual teaches you how to make cafe-quality coffee at home on a budget.
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