If you ever applied for a loan, credit card, cellphone plan, bank account, internet, rent, jobs, or universities, there is a chance your personal information may have been stolen.
ABC News reported on Oct. 2 that Equifax, the credit monitoring company, announced that an additional 2.5 million American adults had their information hacked, bringing the number to 145.5 million Americans.
The New York Times reports the information that was stolen includes Social Security numbers and drivers license numbers. Other information that has been compromised includes birth dates, addresses and credit card numbers for 209,000 individuals.
Equifax was hacked from mid–May to July, and the company found out about the breach on July 29. Equifax waited six weeks to announce the breach, according to the New York Times.
With this information, criminals can open bank accounts, get tax returns and open new credit cards. In doing so, it will put the people affected in debt and destroy their credit.
Even if someone has never knowingly signed up with Equifax, Equifax probably has their information. CNN reported Equifax is one of three national for–profit credit reporting agencies that exist in the U.S. The other two companies are Experian and TransUnion. These companies do not need permission to gather anyone‘s private information.
“These companies turn a profit collecting Social Security numbers, birth dates, drivers’ license numbers, loan information, credit card accounts, mortgage data, address histories and keeping tabs on your payment records,” CNN reported. “If you have a credit card, these agencies undoubtedly have an electronic folder with your name on it.”
If an individual applies for a new loan, bank account or other similar services, a by–product of using those services is using the services that the big three CRA provides. The banks and other companies, such as cell phone companies, give your information to the CRA’s for tracking.
Individuals can find out if they were affected by the hack and protect their credit by doing a number of things.
The first step people can take is to get their credit report. According to CNN, anyone can get free credit reports by going to the website annualcreditreport.com. After receiving the report, a person must continue to monitor their credit. Doing so will provide the individual with the ability to see if anything happens with their credit (i.e. new credit cards) that they themselves did not approve.
Another option someone can choose is freezing their credit. According to PBS, freezing your credit would freeze your account. You or anyone with your information would not be able to take out any new loans or credit cards.
To be clear, you can keep the credit cards you have now and use them, as well as pay off the loans if you have any, but you cannot do anything new with your credit.
Another option is to take up Equifax’s offer for free credit monitoring up to one year. At the end of that year, that individual will have to pay for Equifax’s protection or cancel that membership.
Nick Clements, co-founder of MagnifyMoney, a financial services organization, was interviewed by PBS and told them one year of protection is not enough.
Clements pointed out that Social Security numbers do not expire. The hackers with this information can hold on to it for years, so a year of protection is not enough. People will need to keep track of their information.
If an individual wants to look for help outside of Equifax, PBS reported. A person can pay a lawyer to sue Equifax for what has happened. Multiple lawsuits against Equifax are in progress, including a class action lawsuits in multiple states across the country.