This news flash came across my screen yesterday evening …
“Cyberattack May Have Affected 143 Million Customers”
I was in the middle of something, but a quick and dirty calculation determines that there are approximately 146 million adults in the U.S. So … basically each and every one of us have been exposed to potential loss.
So, what happened? According to an article in the New York Times …
Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, said on Thursday that hackers had gained access to company data that potentially compromised sensitive information for 143 million American consumers, including Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.
The attack on the company represents one of the largest risks to personally sensitive information in recent years, and is the third major cybersecurity threat for the agency since 2015.
“This is about as bad as it gets,” said Pamela Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group. “If you have a credit report, chances are you may be in this breach. The chances are much better than 50 percent.” 98% according to my calculations …
“On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of risk to consumers, this is a 10,” said Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst at Gartner.
In addition to the other material, hackers were also able to retrieve names, birth dates and addresses. Credit card numbers for 209,000 consumers were stolen, while documents with personal information used in disputes for 182,000 people were also taken.
More information, no doubt, will be coming in the next few days. I am not a credit analyst, but my best advice tips to all for at least the next few weeks…
- Use credit and debit cards as little as possible. Deal in cash.
- Do not use those handy phone apps that allow you to scan coupons at the register via your cell phone.
- Check your bank balance DAILY and report immediately any transactions that are not yours.
- Change your passwords … today … for any online services that store your credit information, ie., Amazon, online pharmacies, banking websites, credit card companies, utility companies, etc.
I do not know the scope of this intrusion, and thus far no widescale theft has been reported. However, my concern is partly with the fact that the files were accessed from mid-May to July, Equifax discovered the intrusion on July 29, and we were only informed on September 7th. What have they been doing for 41 days??? Adding to the mystery … three senior executives, including the company’s chief financial officer, John Gamble, sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in the days after the breach was discovered.
Equifax has created a website to help consumers determine whether their data was at risk. I tried to check it out in advance of this posting, but the print was too small and dim for me to be able to see.
My last piece of advice, pending additional information, is buy into no scheme! When these things happen, typically the snakes come out from under the rocks, and you will get offers for ‘credit protection’ and promises that, for a fee or course, a company will guarantee your online safety. Do Not Believe Them!!!! They are shysters and crooks. Be sure to check your bank balance daily, your credit card statements, and you will likely be fine. The one thing to be clear on … if you find a strange transaction on bank or credit card statement … report it immediately! If you do so, you will likely not be out a penny.
I went through a similar hack a few years ago, and because I reported it the day it happened (I am a CPA and am OCD about money, therefore I check all accounts daily) I was reimbursed 100%, including overdraft fees that occurred as a result of the theft and even given a $50 bonus from our bank.
Is there any way to avoid being vulnerable to these hacks in the future? Probably not, short of going completely off the financial grid and dealing with everything from auto purchases, insurance, and utility bills to groceries and medical bills in cash. That is unwieldy, inconvenient, and simply not an option for most of us in the 21st century. But be smart … look at those credit statements, keep tabs on your bank balances, and use cash in places like restaurants, shops, etc.
Equifax is an international credit reporting agency, so there may be exposure outside the U.S., though I am not aware of it. Take reasonable precautions, wherever you live, for this is the age of technology and, as always, there are people out there looking to use that technology for all the wrong things.