Another kick to the stomach from today's big news on the Equifax cybersecurity breach. For those who may not know, Equifax announced that cybercriminals got the names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, addresses, and in some cases driver's license numbers, of about 143 million Americans.
Yeah, you read that right...they got everything but the kitchen sink for about 44% of the US population.
There were some other "lesser" breaches as well. Read the whole thing at Equifax Announces Cybersecurity Incident Involving Consumer Information.
You can also check if you've been compromised: See if your personal information is potentially impacted. [Edit: Though I initially received no immediate confirmation, it appears those compromised are now told "Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident."] You'll also want to be aware that they try to steer you into signing up for free credit monitoring.
So what's the potential end game of all this for you and for me? Lots of possibilities:
- We could be part of the 56% that the criminals didn't get (this time around).
- They got our info but will do nothing with it.
- They already sold our info to other bad guys who may or may not do anything with it.
- Credit will be fraudulently applied for in your or my name.
- Fraudulent tax returns will be sent to the IRS (or state tax agency) in your or my name, possibly early in tax season to try to beat us in filing our own return.
- Something else?
It's a given that we ultimately have no control over the security of our information if we're going to participate in modern society. We're largely at the mercy of the good guys being able to stay technologically ahead of the bad guys (and not make stupid mistakes).
But there are some steps we can take ourselves that may help, which brings me to the title of this post. Equifax wants you to sign up for free credit monitoring. Instead, I think you need to consider if a "credit freeze" might be better for you.
Credit monitoring will inform you if someone has fraudulently applied for credit under your record. In contrast, a credit freeze doesn't permit your credit record to be accessed in the first place (even by you, unless you first lift the freeze).
Why would you merely want to know the horse has bolted and is in the next county when you can simply lock the barn door instead?
In October 2015, I blogged about my experience implementing a credit freeze with the four main credit agencies. Check it out. If it sounds right for you, my post includes steps and links to speed you along your way.
How to Really Protect Your Credit File from Theft (SecondHalf Blog, October 19, 2015)