Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus, recently experienced a massive security breach. Personal information, including Social Security numbers, birthdates and other personal data for some 143 million Americans was stolen.
According to the Federal Reserve and Census Bureau, there were about 174 million American adults with at least one credit card in 2015.
“This is going to create a lot of identity theft,” Jason Alvarado, program coordinator for cyber security here at Richland College, explains.
Ted Jenkin, co-CEO and founder of the financial advisory firm oXYGen Financial, writing for “The Experts” section of The Wall Street Journal online, said thieves can create new bank accounts, apply for credit cards, get medical treatment, file a tax returns or even file for unemployment benefits with the stolen information. It can be hard to know when this happens too. The Social Security Administration explains “you may not find out that someone is using your number until you’re turned down for credit, or you begin to get calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items you never bought.”
The threat will not go away any time soon. “First, it’s going to be held close by whoever grabbed it. But, slowly over time, it will be leaked to the dark web,” Alvarado explains. Alvarado says people’s credit reports will be sold on the dark web and “once there is no real monetary value or somebody buys them all, then the stuff will get released publicly.” “Publicly” could mean this information is posted on a google drive.
There are options available to protect against identity theft.
Regularly checking credit scores is routine advice, U.S. law gives ever Americans the right to pull his or her credit reports for free once a year from the major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Checking one bureau every four months is best. Another option is to create an account with an independent credit reporting website, such as Credit Karma. This site allows its users to check his or her credit score at any time, and it warns a user whenever his or her credit score changes, for the good or the bad.
Placing a credit freeze on credit files with the major credit bureaus is the strongest possible option. “The credit freeze is the nuclear option of credit protection. But in the wake of a break this big, it’s worth considering,” Matt Schulz, analyst with CreditCards.com, told Associated Press. This means no one can request new accounts and bank cards until the account is unfrozen.
Equifax has waved credit report freezing fees for 30 days since Monday, Sept. 11. Their credit report freeze website is https://www.freeze.equifax.com. It does not require the user to create an account.
TransUnion requires users make an account, but its webpage for credit freezes has been having technical difficulties leaving some users unable to freeze his or her credit reports. TransUnion’s credit freeze website is https://freeze.transunion.com.
Experian does not require users make an account, but it does charge a fee of $10.83 in Texas. Go to https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html.