An alarming data breach on Equifax has compromised the personal information of an estimated 143 million people across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. To put that number into perspective, that’s nearly half the population in the U.S. According to reports from Equifax, “cyber criminals have accessed sensitive information such as names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver’s licenses.” To make matters worse, the attack compromised “credit card numbers for about 209,000 U.S. customers…as was personal identifying information on roughly 182,000 U.S. customers involved in credit report disputes.”
The cyber attack itself, which is already being labeled as one of the worst in data breach history, occurred between “mid-May and July,” and wasn’t discovered by Equifax officials until July 29. That’s a lot of time to pass when sensitive information belonging to literally millions of people is at risk.
But what is Equifax? What is the likelihood that your information was compromised in the attack? For starters, Equifax is “one of three nationwide credit-reporting companies that track and rates the financial history of U.S. consumers.” It analyzes consumer’s “data about loans, loan payments and credit cards, as well as information on everything from child support payments, credit limits, missed rent and utility payments, addresses and employer history” to calculate credit scores, among other things.
The company gets its consumer data from a number of different sources, including “credit card companies, banks, retailers, and lenders who report on the credit activity of individuals to credit reporting agencies,” and it even purchases public records. This means consumers might not always be aware that they’re even an Equifax customer, which is one of the reasons why this latest cyber attack is so scary.
So how can you tell if you’re a victim of this attack? Well, at the moment Equifax plans on “mailing notices to people whose credit cards or dispute documents were affected.” Additionally, the company said, “consumers can check to see if they’ve potentially been impacted by submitting their name and the last six digits of their social security number.” The company also has plans to offer users “free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring services,” though it has yet to comment on when or how that process will take place.
In a statement Richard F. Smith, the CEO and chairman for Equifax said:
“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do.”