Hood says 1.29 million Mississippians impacted by Equifax security breach.
Jimmie Gates, The Clarion-Ledger
It was perhaps only a matter of time before crooks jumped on the opportunity to cash in on the confusion following the massive Equifax data breach.
In case you have been in a cave the past couple of weeks, here’s a recap of what’s happened: Equifax, one of the “Big 3” credit bureaus that compile and sell credit data on hundreds of millions of consumers, announced recently that hackers had been playing around in its database for several weeks this summer.
The result: sensitive data on an estimated 143 million consumers from multiple countries had been compromised. Equifax is getting hammered by regulators and the public not only for having inadequate security in the first place, but also because they waited several weeks to report the breach; encouraged customers to sign up for free “credit monitoring” services that initially contained language that would potentially take away their legal rights; and then charged for “freezing” consumers’ credit accounts. After tremendous pressure, Equifax backpedalled on the last two items, but the damage to the company is likely to be long-lasting.
Although it wasn’t the biggest breach in history by the numbers (that distinction belongs to Yahoo), it was particularly dangerous because thieves got away with information that connected Social Security numbers, names, addresses and other key pieces of information. These pieces of data are likely being sold on the black market, to be used by other thieves to steal your identity.
Last week, Attorney General Jim Hood joined with his counterparts across the nation to announce they were suing Equifax for failing to protect consumers’ information. Members of Congress are demanding investigations, and class-action lawsuits are certainly on the way.
The whole thing has left a whole lot of Americans trying to figure out what to do to protect themselves from the risk of identity theft. While freezing your account at Equifax and its counterparts TransUnion and Experian is the route most experts advise (as of this writing, the other two companies are charging for this service), scammers are already trying to convince people to give up personal information or even pay for additional scam services. A rising chorus of regulatory agencies is warning consumers not to take the bait.
More: Freezing your credit after the Equifax breach
According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are calling consumers claiming they’re with Equifax, and are calling to “verify your account information.” But Equifax has stated they’ll only be sending notices through the mail to anyone who was exposed. “Stop. Don’t tell them anything,” warned the FTC in a blog post. “They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.”
The FTC advises that, if you get such a call, your best bet is to hang up. Do not press “1” or any other key or respond in any way. In any case, don’t give any personal information to the caller. Caller ID can’t be trusted, even if it looks like the call comes from your home area code and local exchange. It’s not; scammers have long ago figured out how to “spoof” the Caller ID information to fool you into thinking it’s a local call.
It’s also likely that there’ll be email scams or even “snail mail” claiming to be able to help you deal with the Equifax breach. These communications might even look like they come from Equifax or some other known company, but in reality are “phishing” scams designed to fool you into clicking on links or call to get services. Again, don’t take the bait.
This week, Hood warned of scam websites that have popped up. He said some fake websites that attorneys general have gotten taken down included “equifaxsecurity2018” and another that had equifax incorrectly spelled “equifox.”
Equifax and the credit-reporting industry are in for what promises to be an extensive period of lawsuits, Congressional inquiries and media thrashing. Consumer advocates and regulators have complained for decades that the industry is in need of serious oversight because of recurring patterns of shoddy record-keeping, failing to safeguard our data and wielding tremendous power over the financial lives of nearly every American without adequate oversight. Perhaps it’s time for a serious look at this industry and a national discussion about its place in the American economic landscape.
Contact Bill Moak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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