News of data breaches can be scary and upsetting. After all, you trust companies to safeguard your personal information, not expose it – which is what happened with Equifax Inc., one of the three major credit reporting agencies.
Equifax has since settled a lawsuit about the breach, and you could be eligible for compensation. Here are the key details about the case, and what you should do now and for many years to come.
What happened with Equifax?
Between May and July of 2017, Equifax experienced a massive data breach. Hackers gained access to the credit files of approximately 145.5 million U.S. consumers. First and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, and in some cases driver’s license numbers were compromised.
Investigations and lawsuits soon followed the incident. In July of 2019, the Federal Trade Commission and Equifax reached a settlement: the company agreed to dedicate $700 million to compensate those who were affected by the breach.
Although there have been no reports of unauthorized activity associated with the breach so far, be alert and get ready to take action, says Robert Siciliano, CEO and and security awareness expert at Safr.Me. “The information compromised in this breach, such as Social Security numbers, will ultimately lead to new account fraud,” says Siciliano.
Know if you were affected, and what to do if you were
It’s not hard to find out if your information was affected by the breach. Just log onto the website Equifax has created for this purpose, or call 866-447-7559. In less than a minute you’ll know. The company will also be sending letters to people who were impacted.
If you learn that your information was compromised, your first step is to file a claim via this Equifax website. The form only takes a few minutes to complete, and it will take you through all of the options.
You may be eligible for:
Don’t delay, though. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you must file a claim by January 22, 2020. After you do, wait. You will get the free credit monitoring after final court approval, at which stage you’ll be sent an activation code. The settlement administrator will not send cash payments until they are approved by the court.
Another part of the settlement is that Equifax will provide extra credit reports for free; no claim needed. Starting in 2020, you and every consumer will be eligible for six free reports each year for seven years. They will be available for download from the main Equifax website.
What to do now and into the future
Unfortunately there is nothing you can do to prevent hackers from committing more data breaches. Companies are responsible for keeping their security systems tight, not you. What you can do, however, is protect yourself from what could happen before and after a breach.
Finally, vigilance is required, especially when communicating electronically. “Keep on the lookout for phishing emails that utilize information obtained from the breach,” says Siciliano. “It could make you, the potential victim, think you’re being communicated with by legitimate companies.”
By taking action and being extra aware, you should be able to thwart a thief who has access to your precious personal and financial information – or who is already trying to use it.
Robert Siciliano CSP