If you think you’ve never been victimized by a cyberbreach incident, all that may have changed this past week.
On Thursday, September 7, Equifax Inc., one of the nation’s largest credit bureaus, announced a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting approximately 143 million consumers throughout the U.S.
According to the Equifax website, cybercriminals exploited a U.S. website vulnerability to gain access to certain files and information—most notably, names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and in select instances, driver’s license numbers. Additionally, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, as well as dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers, were accessed.
To put this cyberbreach incident in context, there were approximately 321,100,000 people living in the U.S. in 2016, so this incident potentially impacts more than one-third of the U.S. population.
Equifax Offers Resources and Answers
Equifax has created a page on its website dedicated to information related to the breach. You can see it here. Additionally, Equifax is also providing incident-specific consumer information through a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. Selected questions include:
- What happened?
- When did the company learn of this incident?
- Who and how many people are affected?
- What information may have been impacted?
- Is the issue contained?
- What steps should I immediately take?
You can view the FAQs here.
Four Tips to Safeguard Your Identity
Check Your Credit Reports
If you do not monitor your credit on an annual basis, this latest event should be your wake-up call. Free credit report applications are available at:
Every lawful U.S. citizen is allowed to receive one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. All three must be checked because the information can be radically different between the bureaus. If you believe you’ve been impacted by the Equifax breach, you should secure a copy now and do so going forward on an annual basis. If you note any transaction that is not yours, report it immediately to the credit reporting bureau.
Additionally, if you are concerned about unauthorized access to your personal information, you should consider implementing some or all of the following actions:
If You’re Affected, Place a Fraud Alert
Contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus and request to place a fraud alert on any names wherein personal information has been compromised. A fraud alert is free and lasts for 90 days. There is no need to place an alert with each bureau; the three bureaus share fraud alerts with each other.
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285 / equifax.com
- Experian 1-888-397-3742 / experian.com
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289 / transunion.com
Issuing a fraud alert will make it more difficult for you – or potentially someone posing as you – to secure credit under your name, since the credit bureau will now have to verify your identity before credit is granted. A fraud alert is not the same as freezing your credit. Someone can still access your credit report with a fraud alert in place if you so authorize.
Consider Credit Monitoring Services
If this option isn’t already being provided to you for free by Equifax, you may want to consider utilizing a credit monitoring service. A credit monitoring service can place a fraud alert on your account, as well place a freeze on your credit. A credit monitoring service will usually send you an email alerting you that credit is being extended in your name, or that someone has inquired as to your credit. Credit monitoring services charge based on the frequency of notification—the more frequent notification, the higher the cost.
Place a Credit Freeze on Your Account
It is easy and relatively inexpensive to freeze your credit. Fees associated with initiating a credit freeze vary by state. In Florida, placing a “freeze” on your account, if you have not been an identity theft victim, will cost $10 per account per credit reporting bureau. If you have been an identity theft victim and have filed a police report, these services are free. To “thaw” your account (i.e., remove the freeze) will also cost you $10 per transaction per credit reporting bureau in Florida and $5 in Ohio. These prices will vary based on what state you live in.
To freeze or thaw an account, all you need to do is contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus. A freeze will last until you remove it. If you need to thaw your credit in order to give someone access to it, remember that there is a $10 fee to thaw the account, and then a $10 fee to re-freeze it for each credit reporting bureau.
If you have questions about cyberbreaches, or if you believe that your company may have been a victim of a cyberbreach, please call Frank A. Suponcic, CPA, CFE, CFF in the Skoda Minotti Litigation Support Advisory Group at (440) 449-6800 or email Frank.