If this is the first you’re hearing of the Equifax data breach, you’re not alone. But if you’ve applied for a credit card, a loan, an apartment, a new job, or filed your taxes in the last year, chances are your information has potentially been compromised, you might want to listen up.
A little worried? OK, I understand, me too — but at the same time, don’t worry too much, because the odds of you becoming a target of this breach are like winning the lottery 1 out of 140,000,000+. In this case, I use the word “winning” very loosely.
Who, What, Where, and Why
Equifax is one of three big credit reporting firms in the US, alongside Experian and Transunion. To quote Bloomburg specifically:
On Sept. 7 it announced a data breach that may have put about 143 million people in the U.S. at risk, exposing names, addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers, details that could help identity thieves take out loans, apply for a credit card, or buy a new wardrobe in your name.
Right now, more than ever, you might be at risk of having your identity stolen because of a compromised cyber security system at a MAJOR credit reporting company — which is absolutely egregious. But, it happened; there’s no point in talking about how awful it is. Instead, you should be focusing on your next steps to take:
- Find out if your information was actually compromised
- Find out what to do next
- Find out if there is any restitution available to you, assuming you were negatively impacted in the form of having your ID stolen.
While the source of the hack isn’t known (or, at least, isn’t being openly reported), the fact remains that there’s someone, some company, some enterprise out there that might have your personal information, which means they’ll not only be able to open credit cards under your name, but take out mortgages, car loans, anything that requires a credit check in order to do so. So, what’s next?
First: Find Out Your Likeliness of Being Affected
Equifax generously (scoff) published a new website, where you can enter the last 6 digits of your social security number and last name to find out the odds of your information having been stolen. After which, whether or not you were affected, they want you to subscribe to their year-long “identity protection” subscription, or something — which honestly makes me laugh out loud. You already lost my info once, with information you received for free that I never purposefully even gave you, and now you want me to pay you money to keep it safe? What, retroactively? Ha, ha.
According to Equifax, after the breach was discovered: “The company at first thought the intrusion was limited. Equifax hired cybersecurity experts and spent ’thousands of hours’ investigating before informing the public six weeks after the breach was discovered.”
Second: If You’re Affected…
Should you put your info into Equifax’s website and find that your info is in fact vulnerable, step number one is to request a credit report immediately from other (reliable) reporting companies, like Experian or TransUnion, of which legally have to provide you with free reports once a year.
If you’ve lost that lottery I mentioned earlier, you’ll see where and when someone has opened accounts in your name, and we’ll talk about what to do then a little bit later. For now, let’s assume there’s nothing suspicious going on on your reports, but you’re still wary about keeping your information safe.
In that case, next is to freeze and apply a fraud alert to your credit, at all three reporting companies. The initial freezing of your information should be free (or at least a small amount), and though it’ll cost a little bit to unfreeze it later on, doing so makes it impossible for fraudulent accounts, loans, what have you, to be taken out in your name without more information than what the hackers would have obtained. While this will make it more difficult for you yourself to apply for loans and more, it’ll be the same case for anyone trying to use your social security number to cash in on a free vacation.
Remember that you’ll have to call and freeze your credit at all three reporting companies, just to cover all of you bases. When you apply the freeze, you’ll receive a PIN number that’ll be the gatekeeper between you and your information, and so long as that number remains private, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about anyone getting in without your permission.
Next, and a little more timely, file your taxes as soon as possible — because trying to do so after someone else posing as you already has will be actual hell on earth. Contact your employer for your W-2 forms as soon as they’re available, and don’t put off getting them done and out of the way. Should someone else file under your name, not only will you potentially lose out on your tax return, but you’ll have to deal with the IRS and getting everything straightened out, if they don’t come to you first because of suspected tax evasion or something similar!
Third: Possible Litigations
You may be thinking to yourself, “This is so outright disgusting, I ought to be compensated, Equifax needs to pay for their gross misconduct with my personal information” — and you’re right, but unfortunately, the chances of you walking away with any amount of money from suing this enormous company is miniscule, unless you’ve actually felt the effects of identity fraud based on their massive security oversight.
While there’s a lot of legal jargon and information behind what your options are in this case, I’m going to simplify it like this:
If Equifax’s website states you’re not likely at risk, if you’ve had your credit frozen and no other suspicious charges have shown up and damaged your credit, the odds of winning a case against Equifax are slim to none. Though, if you still want to try your odds, there are lots of ways becoming available for people, especially those that can’t/don’t want to hire a lawyer for small claims court and up.
However, if you’ve had your ID actively stolen, strangers have taken out loans in your name, your life has been turned upside down because of this breach, then yes, yes, yes, you can seek compensation. And lots of it, too. I mean, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m willing to guess it would be a lot. I can’t give much guidance on that step, though, you’ll have to contact someone who actually went to law school.
And, despite what you might hear, signing up for Equifax’s credit surveillance subscription shouldn’t affect your chances, either.
While this breach of information in understandably pretty dang scary, it’s not the end of the world. Even if your information does get stolen, it’s not the end of the world — it’s only the end of a few years of peaceful loan applications. The worst that will happen is you’ll have to put in a lot of time refuting fraudulent charges and loan applications; you’ll have a more difficult time applying for loans yourself, but eventually things would simmer down and go back to normal. Identity theft isn’t anything new, there are ways to protect against it, and protect yourself whilst in the thick of it.
Like I mentioned before, actually having your information stolen for fraudulent means are 1/140,000,000+, which implies it’s not super likely. There’s still a chance, and if you’re worried you should definitely look into putting a freeze on your credit and more closely monitoring it, but otherwise, just remain on top of your finances and other sensitive information.
Surely with this massive upset, companies that handle such sensitive information as credit reporting, financial information, medical information, and more, will finally put in the effort and money necessary to keep on the up and up when it comes to cyber security and thwarting similar hacks. Understandably, there will probably be more breaches in the future as technology grows and evolves, but at least we’re getting better at protecting ourselves against outsiders wanting in!