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Equifax Data Breach: What Consumers Need to Know and Need to Do

Earlier this month Equifax revealed that it suffered massive data breaches and were hacked on two separate occasions. Troubling, is that the hackers were able to obtain accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. What is so troubling and scary about this the personal identification information is not fluid, it will never change and can be used by the hackers or others for many years down the road. A consumer’s personal information may be sold on the black-market years from now and it may take the consumer years after this to discover the improper use of their personal information. Accordingly, consumers need to be cognizant of this massive data breach and take all necessary precautions to protect themselves.

Equifax is one of three major consumer credit-reporting agencies, the other two are TransUnion and Experian, with data on more than 820 million consumers and 81 million businesses worldwide. On March 8, 2017, Cisco Systems Inc. reported an online security flaw that allowed hackers to break into servers around the internet. Cisco urged users to upgrade their systems immediately with a newly issued fix; Equifax Inc. was among the companies using the software. Equifax allegedly conducted an internal review of its security system, however, in late July of 2017 Equifax determined that there was suspicious internet traffic on its system and realized that the security flaw announced by Cisco on March 8, 2017, still existed within its systems. This determination was well too late, by this point hackers had been obtaining personal and sensitive consumer information from mid-May of 2017 through July 30, 2017.

Equifax’s Blunders in Addressing the Massive Data Hack

Before revealing the vast data breach to the public, three high-ranking Equifax employees, including the company’s finance chief, sold approximately $1.8 million in stock on August 1 and 2, of 2017. More than a month after these high-ranking employees sold Equifax stock, Equifax disclosed to the public that it was the victim a massive cyber-attack after the close of stock trading on September 7, 2017.

If the high-ranking employees selling Equifax stock wasn’t enough negative publicity, Equifax also made other significant errors that heightened the negative publicity storm. These blunders, include, but are not limited to, Equifax choosing not to inform consumers whose information was obtained, instead, Equifax set up a website that consumers would have to review, the problem is the website was not up and running on time and has also had a tremendous amount of delays. Equifax offered free credit monitoring, however, the enrollees had to waive their right to bring an action against the company in court – Equifax eventually backpedaled, this mandatory arbitration provision will not be enforced according to Equifax. Equifax recommended that consumers consider freezing their credit, however, they were seeking to assess fees for freezing the credit, Equifax has now backpedaled on this as well.

Steps Consumers Should Take

First, as a consumer you need to determine if your data has been compromised, you will need to visit Equifax’s website at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to determine if you have been victimized by the hack. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach. Consumers can get a free year of credit monitoring, regardless of whether their information was hacked. Consumers have until November 21, 2017, to enroll in the free credit monitoring service.

Second, obtain and thoroughly review your credit reports. Pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers have a right to receive a free credit report. The FCRA requires each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, to provide you with a free credit report once every 12 months. This is called a “free annual disclosure,” the only website that actually authorized to fill consumer’s requests for credit reports is annualcreditreport.com.

Third, carefully monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts. Determine if there are any charges or other items that you do not recognize.

Fourth, consider placing a credit freeze on your files. If you are in the market for a new home or vehicle that needs to be financed, or will be requiring credit in the near future, then this is probably not a viable option for you. A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed. The added layer of security means that hackers can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information. It must be noted, freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.

Fifth, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert is a service that will let you know when someone is looking at your credit and may contact you about a new account opened in your name. While this is helpful, often times consumers do not receive any notification about an account being opened in their name until after it happens which is sometimes too late to adequately address the issue.

Sixth, consider filing your taxes as soon as practicable. If your personal data has been compromised then you may become a victim of tax identity theft. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund. One of the best preventative measures is to file your taxes as soon as possible.

If you think that you have been a victim of Equifax’s data breach or have other credit reporting issues, then please contact Sweeney Law, P.A. immediately to protect your rights.

Sweeney Law, P.A. Regularly Represents Consumers with Credit Reporting Issues

Brendan A. Sweeney, Esq., of Sweeney Law, P.A., The Florida Debt Warrior, regularly represents individuals that have had their consumer rights violated by credit reporting agencies, banks, and other financial institutions. Brendan A. Sweeney, Esq., has been recognized as a Florida Legal Elite Rising Star Attorney in Consumer Law in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. If you have any issues with your credit report then contact Sweeney Law, P.A. at 954.440.3993 immediately to protect your rights. www.sweeneylawpa.com

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