Nationwide breach exposes private data of millions

Photo courtesy of Equifax

Story by Lindsey Coleman, Assistant News Editor

On Sept. 7, Equifax, one of the nation’s three credit reporting agencies, informed consumers that 143 million customers’ private information had been hacked.

From May through July, the Federal Trade Commission said hackers had access to names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. 209,000 credit card numbers were also stolen. Personal information was also obtained from 182,000 customers who disputed issues on their credit report in the past.

“In cases such as the Equifax hack, consumers are really at the mercy of the hackers,” Stephen Lacewell, professor in the Arthur J. Bauernfeind College of Business at Murray State, said. “While banks and credit reporting agencies are constantly trying to improve their data protection process, there will always be individuals working hard to steal your data and use it for financial gain.”

Those affected include roughly half of the American population, therefore, experts say every American should assume their information has been compromised and take precautions now. The first step is to see if Equifax believes you are one of the millions affected by this breach. Log on to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ and enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number. Equifax will then tell you if you may be one of those affected.

To add to the confusion and frustration of customers, it was reported by The Verge on Sept. 19 that Equifax tweeted out the wrong website for the breach. Turns out the company tweeted out www.securityequifax2017.com instead.

The problems didn’t stop there. Equifax offered breach victims a free year of its credit monitoring service but required customers to sign an agreement that they would not sue the company. The company later lifted that restriction after customer complaints.

According to CNN, the SSRS research firm conducted a study about the public level of concern about the hack. Two-thirds of respondents were concerned, while only 19 percent of respondents had taken any action to see if their information had been threatened.

“Equifax is trying hard to soothe consumers’ fears, but this hack may have never happened if they had taken a more proactive approach with a patch to their system,” Lacewell said.

In April, the University of Louisville notified employees that hackers had potentially gained access to their information from the W-2 service provider the university uses.

“The suspicious activity involved access to or download of W-2 information from the W-2 Express website,” according to the University of Louisville human resource website.

The service provider, Equifax Workforce Solutions, is a subsidiary of Equifax, Inc.

“Equifax is aware of similar activity involving other organizations and is working with clients to resolve the incidents,” the website reported.

It was later reported that almost 50 employees confirmed having some sort of fraudulent activity related to their W-2s. Equifax had identified up to 750 employees whose W-2 Express accounts had shown suspicious activity.

Murray State also uses Equifax Workforce Solutions as it’s W-2 service provider. Officials tell The Murray State News they are working to safeguard employee’s private information.

As one of the faculty staff advisers for Financial Literacy Empowers Everyone, Lacewell said Murray State has been very proactive in increasing awareness. F.L.E.E. is a student-led financial literacy group which sponsors several financial literacy programs each year on campus.  

Krysta Winstead, senior from Dexter, Missouri, said even though the breach has not affected her personally, she has been checking her credit card account regularly to make sure there is no suspicious activity.

“I don’t want this breach to affect me later on down the road when I am trying to apply for a bigger credit card or put money down on a new car,” Winstead said.

She said she thinks college students are the easiest target, and they need to be more educated about credit threats.

“I think this hurts college students because most of us are about to start trying to get some credit built up, and a lot of students don’t pay that close of attention to their accounts or have alerts set up from their bank to tell them when there is suspicious activity on their account,” Winstead said.

The credit reporting agency will then offer those affected the opportunity to enroll in TrustedID Premier, which provides credit file and social security monitoring as well as identity theft insurance.

Experts say you should then change all of your passwords and login information and freeze your credit with all three reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Equifax states on its website that the company will remove fees for credit freezing through Nov. 21, 2017.

Financial experts urge everyone to continue to monitor their credit and anyone who believes they are a victim of identity theft to contact the FTC through its website at IdentityTheft.gov.