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It’s a consumer’s worst nightmare: The Equifax data breach — perhaps already the scariest cybersecurity breach in history — was worse than the public knew.
Hackers accessed more information than Equifax previously disclosed to the public, according to The Wall Street Journal and CNN Money. The publications learned this from documents that Equifax recently submitted to the U.S. Senate’s Banking Committee.
The compromised data
In public announcements issued in September and October, Equifax reported that 145.5 million U.S. consumers were “potentially” impacted by the breach. The information that hackers accessed, Equifax said at that time, “primarily” included:
- Social Security numbers
- Dates of birth
- Driver’s license numbers (“in some instances”)
Additionally, for small groups of U.S. consumers, the following information was accessed:
- Credit card numbers (for about 209,000 consumers)
- “Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information” (for about 182,000 consumers)
Now the WSJ and CNN report that the following data on at least some consumers was also accessed:
- Tax identification numbers
- Email addresses
- Driver’s license issue dates
- Driver’s license states
An Equifax spokesperson told CNN that the original list of accessed data was not meant to represent the full extent of information that may have been compromised in the breach. For consumers who may have been impacted, however, Equifax’s explanations are beside the point.
What is important now is that affected consumers act to ensure their finances are not compromised along with their personal information. As CNN notes, a criminal could use the types of data listed above to open a bank account or line of credit in your name without your knowledge.
How to protect yourself
When you’re worried about possible identity theft, the single strongest protection for your finances is a complete credit freeze. By “complete,” I mean freezing your credit with all three major nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, blocks others from accessing your credit file. The U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau explains:
“Creditors typically won’t offer you credit if they can’t access your credit reporting file, so a freeze prevents you or others from opening accounts in your name. Security freezes can be useful in preventing an identity thief from opening a new credit account in your name.”
For help deciding whether to pursue a freeze, check out:
- “After Equifax Data Hack, Should I Freeze My Account?“
- “Should You Use a Credit Freeze to Protect Yourself?“
If you opt for a credit freeze, note that Equifax has extended its offer for free freezes.
Another option you may come across is a new “Lock & Alert” service that Equifax recently launched. Credit locks do not offer the same legal protections as credit freezes, though. We detailed further drawbacks of locks in “Why a Credit Freeze Beats Equifax’s Free ‘Credit Lock‘” after Equifax first announced its lock service.
Additionally, in recent weeks, the webpage for Equifax’s lock service has been up and down. For example, I got a “404 Not Found” error message when I tried to visit it several weeks ago.
Other folks have also reportedly experienced other technical issues with the site. They include Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, who tried to access the site last month. At the time, he said:
“I tried to register for the free Lock and Alert service from Equifax this morning. After filling in lots of info, the website said, ‘We can’t complete your request at this time. Please call the Customer Care team.'”
How to find out if you’re an identity theft victim
In addition to securing your finances, such as via a credit freeze, you also should request copies of your consumer reports to find out whether a cyberthief has used your personal information to open accounts in your name or to commit other crimes.
You’re hopefully familiar with one type of consumer report: credit reports. All consumers should check their credit reports regularly and anytime they suspect identity theft.
If someone has taken out a line of credit in your name — be it a credit card or some type of loan — it will show up on your credit reports. So, request your reports from the three major nationwide credit reporting companies and study them for activity you don’t recognize.
To find out if someone has opened a bank account in your name, request copies of another type of consumer report: your checking account reports. To learn how this works, see “How to Discover If Crooks Have Opened Bank Accounts in Your Name.”
To learn more about consumer reports — including the other types that exist and how to request free copies — check out “Want to Keep Your Money Safe? This Is the One List You Need.”
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