Stealing headlines from Hurricane Irma was the revelation that Equifax experienced a major data breach during the summer.  Equifax is one of the “big three” credit monitoring services and therefore the data they collect on each of us is broad and deep.  They estimate that data for 143 million people –  nearly half the population of the United States – has been stolen!

What does this breach mean for you?  Your financial history and ability to buy a home, new car, or even get healthcare could be at stake.  Here are recommended steps to protect you and your family.

  1. Be skeptical! Equifax is looking out for itself, not you!  They will fight to survive this fiasco, spending the minimum required. Don’t give away your rights – read all documents carefully before signing. Don’t rush to sign any agreements. The aftermath of the breach will play out over months, not hours, and new information will emerge every week.
  2. Be cautious! This breach is so large, scammers will take advantage of it.  We learned this morning that a hacktivist created a fake EquiFax website where consumers could check to see if their information was stolen.  EquiFax actually linked to this bogus site and directed consumers to it!  (Remember item 1 – Be Skeptical!) Also be wary of offers to sign up for credit monitoring services and giving out any additional personal information!  Validate the authenticity of any such services. Research these services because many do not provide the protection you need or believe you will receive.
  3. Assume your data has been stolen, even if Equifax says your data has not been stolen! Breaches tend to grow over time because companies often under-report to minimize the bad publicity. As the company investigates the breach, they are also likely to uncover more theft that wasn’t obvious at the beginning of the investigation. For instance, on Tuesday of this week, it was publicized that EquiFax suffered additional breaches this year before this major breach.
  4. Check the Equifax website set up to inform people if their data was stolen. The link to the site is  Questions abound about whether the website provides accurate responses or not!  Remember, be skeptical!
  5. Keep all your records! Record all your interactions with Equifax. Ask for email confirmations after phone conversations. Save email as PDFs.  Any costs you incur, get receipts and put them in a specific location or folder.
  6. Check your credit report at;  This is a free service and you can get one free report a year from each credit reporting service.  I recommend getting one report every 4 months from a different service so you can maintain a fairly regular status of your credit information.
  7. Freeze your Credit – this is your last option and prevents companies from checking your credit score in an effort to get additional credit. This is not something you should do without evaluating your circumstances.  If you are planning to purchase a new car, take out a loan, or get a new credit card, you should evaluate your options.

This blog was originally intended as the second article in the new “Protect Yourself” section of our monthly newsletter.  We focus on protecting small to medium sized businesses but felt we needed to offer some cyber protection information to the individual people who read our newsletter.  I was looking forward to gradually building up our readers knowledge and skills to eventually cover this topic, but the Equifax breach is just like hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria – unpredictable and causing a lot of damage and pain.  I hope this helps you all and best of luck!  We are all going to need it!  And please remember and help in any way you can all those affected by these hurricanes.

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