In a gigantic data breach through Equifax, which was discovered on July 29, hackers got away with Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses for as many as 143 million Americans. This has inarguably put every American exposed through it, at serious risk of identity theft.
Reports indicate that Equifax waited close to six weeks to reveal the hack and a large amount of confusing information has run across the news channels. Reports also indicate that their call centers have been too inundated to handle the large number of calls and the major remedies they are offering (freeze on credit and one year of free credit monitoring) will not fully protect vulnerable consumers.
Over 20 class action lawsuits have already been filed and though the news of Equifax’s breach has been overshadowed by news of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, the impact of the breach cannot be overstated. A breach at one of three major credit bureaus, after all, is not like a breach with the average credit card. Credit cards can be cancelled and replaced, but your birth date and Social Security number cannot. With this data in hand, the thieves can open credit accounts or bank accounts and even file a false tax return and steal your refund. Your information does not have an expiration date like a credit card, so the thieves can hold onto it and use it many years down the line.
Credit bureaus are trusted to protect information, but no government agency has authority to do in and review their security practices. There have been talks that federal oversight of the bureaus is needed.
In the meantime, let’s hope that Equifax commits to protecting millions of people from the damage that this breach has caused and can cause.