2017-09-13 / Front Page


Data of 143 million people stolen from credit reporting agency
Ledger Staff Writer

While much of the country, particularly the Southeast, was keeping its eyes focused on an approaching hurricane, a potentially damaging storm of a different sorts struck nearly half the country’s population.

On Sept. 7, the Equifax credit reporting agency — one of three major bureaus that keep track of your financial life whether you know it or not — announced it had been hacked. From mid-May through July, it was discovered, hackers had stolen information on as many as 143 million people, including their names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, even driver’s license numbers. The information could allow people to open credit lines, or potentially even file tax returns in other people’s names.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that Equifax also lost credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents containing personally identifying information for about 182,000 people. Some consumers in the UK and Canada were impacted, too. Equifax has set up a special website at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com that allows people to see if their information was impacted and the company is offering free credit monitoring.

Julianna Harris from the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs can’t tell consumers to take either step but says they should read the fine print carefully. Free credit monitoring is common following a breach. South Carolina offered such services following a massive breach of tax records at the state Department of Revenue a few years ago.

Harris said signing up for free credit monitoring offers is a personal decision. “If you think it’s useful you can sign up. But read all disclosures carefully.”

While it may not be right for everyone, South Carolina law gives all state residents the right to a free security freeze on their credit files. When a credit freeze is in place, creditors can’t look at your credit files and should not, therefore, open any new lines of credit in your name. The same South Carolina law gives consumers the right to thaw, or temporarily lift a security freeze, whenever they want for free.

You’d have to set up a security freeze with each of the three credit bureaus, a fairly simple process that can be done online. Information about security freeze rights in South Carolina is available at www.consumer.sc.gov.

But there can be inconveniences if you are in need of a loan or new line of credit since you’ll have to thaw your reports and keep track of the personal identification numbers (PIN numbers) you’ll get from the three credit bureaus to do just that.

“We say you should consider a security freeze, because it’s not right for everybody,” Harris said. Sometimes people will forget or lose their PIN numbers, which can complicate the process.

And while the security freeze is sometimes recommended for seniors who no longer need to shop for credit, Harris notes that not all seniors have credit reports to freeze, especially if they always pay cash or paid things off a long time ago.

Definitely, in the wake of the Equifax breach, Harris said you should be closely monitoring all of your statements, bank or otherwise, to make sure they are correct. “Signs of identity theft can often seem trivial,” she said. “It could look like a clerical error or simple mistake.” She said you should keep close watch for any bills for things you did not purchase.

Harris also warned that scammers follow headlines so you should be wary of unsolicited calls from anyone claiming to be from Equifax who is trying to get your personal information.

The FTC says you should also check your credit reports, which you can do annually for free, by visiting annualcreditreport.com.

You can also place a fraud alert on your credit files, a process which warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that creditors should verify your identity.

Lastly, according to the FTC, you should also file your taxes as early as possible. With the information that was stolen, scammers can potentially file a tax return in your name and get a refund. The FTC said you should respond right away to any letters you get from the IRS.

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