Late in the day on Thursday, September 7, 2017, news reports began circulating of a data breach at Equifax, the credit data company. Apparently hackers found a security weakness on some of the web apps the Equifax had been using, and were able to steal at least some potentially compromising information about 143 million Americans (about 44% of us!), including Social Security numbers, addresses, and birthdates. The hackers probably had access between “mid-May and July”, according to Equifax — which they discovered on July 29.
Equifax has long prided itself on its security measures, and offers a variety of services to individuals and other companies on how to avoid or recover from serious data breaches. In response to this event, Equifax began sending letters to people who were impacted — and, shortly after the public announcement, quickly launched a special website so that we can check on the status of our personal data. But for the moment, this website doesn’t contain any particularly helpful information, just an official “enrollment date” on which we can check back.
We urge that you keep a very close eye on your existing financial accounts, watching for activity you don’t expect. We will monitor our clients’ investment accounts, of course, to try to prevent any fraud there; please let us know immediately if you see anything going on in your accounts that you don’t understand. And we recommend that you watch your credit scores, if you can, to see if there are any sudden changes — and if there are, immediately request a free credit report from each of the main reporting agencies (via AnnualCreditReport.com, the one Federally mandated free provider; other services will charge fees). With any luck, we’ll all escape from this unscathed!
— Update — Saturday, September 9 —
Probably the best of the “now what?” articles was published in yesterday’s New York Times: “Equifax’s Instructions Are Confusing. Here’s What to Do Now”, by Ron Lieber. He suggests signing up for all the fraud alerts available, but also to go ahead and pay to “freeze” your credit reports. It’s time-consuming, and not free, but should (with any luck) keep criminals from opening new accounts in your name.