Surviving the Equifax Data Breach
Odds are, you or someone you know were impacted by the Equifax data breach. The breach, which is estimated to have impacted 143 million Americans – nearly half the US population – is considered one of largest data breaches in history. Adding insult to financial injury, Equifax has put the onus on consumers to do their own research about whether or not they need to worry.
But don’t panic just yet—we’ve got steps you can take to help protect yourself. Let’s start with the basics:
What is Equifax? And why do they have my information?
Equifax is one of three major U.S. consumer credit agencies, and if you have ever purchased anything of note, like a car or a house, or rented an apartment, or have had any reason to request a credit report, these agencies have your information.
How did the breach happen?
Cyberthieves were able to access information via a weak point in the Equifax website software between May and July of this year.
What can you do now?
First, check to see if you were potentially affected.
Equifax has an online tool that allows you to look yourself up by your last name and last six digits of you social security number. The tool indicates whether or not you may have been impacted. There have been criticisms of the tool, chief among them it doesn’t definitively tell you whether you have been affected, just that it is likely you have (or have not). But it is a start. To be safe, you should look yourself up by any names you have ever used. For example, I ran it under both my married and maiden names and found no issues but my poor husband, who has only ever had one name, was impacted.
You were impacted: What now?
- Keep an eye on your accounts at all times. It isn’t enough to simply check after a new cybersecurity breach is reported in the news. This breach happened at least six weeks ago, giving hackers plenty of time to steal valuable information.
- Sign up for fraud protection. Equifax is offering a year of free fraud protection monitoring through its TrustedID Premier program, though there have been some concerns about the program. There are other programs you can sign up for as well if you choose to do so.
- Freeze your credit. If you are really worried, you can freeze your credit. In this scenario, no one can access your credit unless you unlock it using a PIN only you have. If you lose the PIN, however, you will have to go through an arduous process to prove your identity before you can get another one.
- File your taxes early. This will help keep a hacker from filing a return with your stolen information.
How can this be prevented?
Unfortunately, there is nothing consumers can do to prevent being victimized by this type of hack. But organizations, like Equifax, must employ rigorous cybersecurity programs to protect the information they store. As technology advances, so must our security.
If you want to learn more about cybersecurity and the resources the AICPA has available to help CPAs advise their clients on this growing concern, visit the Cybersecurity Resource Center or read some of our previous blog posts about the topic.
Lauren J. Sternberg, Manager--Communications, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants