AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
By now most Americans are aware of the Equifax credit reporting agency breach that has seriously exposed sensitive personal information of over 143 million Americans. The exposure of this personal information to unscrupulous hackers has the potential to destroy the credit of millions of innocent citizens and could have devastating impacts on the lives of everyone whose information was compromised.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, from mid-May through July of this year, the hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. And in some cases, they also stole credit card numbers.
While how Equifax’s security system could have become vulnerable to such a hack is now the subject of a federal investigation, it is imperative for everyone to determine whether or not their personal information was stolen.
If you don’t do so, you are placing your financial life in ruin.
You face the possibility of financial identity theft because hackers can now use all of your personal information to create new credit cards, health accounts, banking accounts and utility accounts, all in your name. And when those new bills in your name go unpaid, your credit record will be destroyed.
The fraudster could even commit a crime and turn in fraudulent identification information, which could mistakenly give you a criminal record.
The threat of having your life completely turned upside down for years to come is very real if your personal information was part of the Equifax breach.
So how do you know if your personal information was compromised?
Fortunately, determining that is very simple.
First, visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
If you are not affected, feel fortunate.
If you were, the FTC recommends that you:
1. Check your credit reports for free from Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
2. Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
3. Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
Make no mistake, the Equifax breach is very real. And the consequences to those people who have had their personal information stolen is serious.
If you have not already checked to see if your personal data has been compromised, you need to do so immediately.