When news of the Equifax data breach disaster hit we learned that the personal information of some 143 million people – about one-in-two adults – had been stolen in one of the most monumental data breaches in cybercrime history. Unfortunately, scams are spreading like a computer virus, but they have been for years now. There are reports that calls are being made by people representing themselves as being with Equifax and offering to assist with any problems with the breach. To do so, they say, they ask for your Social Security number or other private information. Never give out information like that over the phone to anyone of whose identity you aren’t 100 percent, without-a-doubt certain. And never in cases like this.
Another scam involves official-looking e-mails purporting to be from Equifax reportedly telling recipients the same thing, that it’s from Equifax and it’s there to help. First, though, you need to verify your identify by providing exactly the type of information you don’t want to share. So, don’t share it. The whole thing is a mess, and if you’re affected it requires action or for you it can become even more of a mess.
One of the immediate defenses suggested to Americans was to freeze their credit to preclude the thieves from making use of it; however, according to the website Business Insider, it’s not something Americans are rushing to do. Business Insider said,
“But fewer than 1% of consumers have put a credit freeze in place, according to a new report from credit monitoring site CreditSesame. Of the nearly four million TransUnion credit reports Credit Sesame analyzed, 0.32% had a credit freeze in place, and 7% had a fraud alert.”
Why the lack of response? People still may be unaware of the step; fears they won’t be able to use their credit (they can, with a PIN, but it’s something else to remember, and lose or forget your PIN and it’s an administrative headache); or they prefer to not pay the fees involved in freezing and un-freezing their credit, to name several reasons.
The other issue is that there’s no determining factor when, or if, the thieves might choose to employ the information they’ve stolen. But, since doing nothing isn’t an option what are the options?
- Learn if your information has been compromised by using the online tool Equifax has set up for that purpose. If you’re a married woman, if you’ve changed your name, or for some reason have in the past used another name for transactions, check under those names, too.
- If it indicates you’ve been affected, or even if you aren’t sure, set up a fraud alert with one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax; TransUnion, or Experian. Equifax is offering free fraud protection for a year through a program it calls TrustedID Premier. At this point how much you trust Equifax’s TrustedID program is up to you.
- Freeze your credit. Issues involved with that step are outlined above, and though it does offer a measure of protection there is no guarantee that a credit freeze will stop a crook from using your information to steal from others or from you.
- Watch your account activity like a hawk eyeing a mouse. If you see anything suspicious report it immediately to your financial institution, your credit card company, or whoever you need to contact. Don’t depend on others to catch everything.
- Consider identity protection. In the 21st century, not having identity protection through ID Shield, Lifelock, or some other reputable organization is comparable to leaving your home in the morning and not just leaving the door unlocked, but leaving it wide open.
What’s clear in the Equifax breach and the many others about which we’ve seen and heard in recent years is that very smart people are spending all day, every day, trying to do very bad things with technology. Sometimes, they succeed. All you can do is everything you can do to protect yourself, realizing that even that may sometimes not be enough.