On September 7, 2017, Equifax (U.S.) reported that they had been breached and as many as 143 million Americans may have had their personal information stolen. Sensitive information leaked included social security numbers, birth dates, drivers license numbers, and maybe over 200,000 credit card numbers!
More than a week after the U.S. breach was announced, Equifax Canada now says the leak may have also exposed the personal information of approximately 100,000 Canadians – leaking Social Insurance Numbers (SIN), names, addresses, and some credit card numbers as well.
The breach originally occurred between May and July 2017. As you already know, between then and when they finally made the news public, it was reported that three of those in the upper echelons of management at Equifax cashed in on some of their shares. Talk about the “Agency Problem!”
What Action is Equifax Taking?
According to the company, they will be contacting Canadians who are impacted by the leak through the mail. Equifax will also offer those affected free credit monitoring and identity theft protection for 12 months. To contact Equifax directly regarding the breach, you can call them at 1-866-828-5961 or email at [email protected].
For U.S. consumers, you can check out your status at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if you are affected. You can also call them to ask questions at 866-447-7559.
How To Protect Yourself From Credit Fraud and Identity Theft
Credit fraud and identity theft can destroy your credit score and frankly, your life! Credit scores are used by lenders to assess your creditworthiness. If your credit score is in tatters, you will not be able to qualify for credit at competitive rates or even get approved at all. Additionally, you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars if the thieves use your personal information to open credit accounts and create debt in your name.
So, how can you protect yourself from credit fraud and identity theft?
1. Credit Score Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection (Paid Option)
Both credit bureaus in Canada (TransUnion and Equifax) offer these services for fees starting at about $20 per month. What you get for your subscription includes access to your credit score and report at all times, and alerts if any changes occur or flags come up. You may also be covered by insurance up to a certain amount should you experience identity theft or credit fraud.
2. Credit Score and Report Monitoring (FREE option)
You can choose to closely monitor your credit score/report free of charge as well. There are now many companies offering FREE access to credit scores in Canada, with some even offering free updated scores on a weekly or monthly basis.
Companies offering access to free credit scores include:
- Borrowell: Access to free monthly credit scores.
- Credit Karma: Access to free weekly credit scores plus credit report.
- Ratehub: Access to free credit scores and report.
- Mogo: Access to free monthly credit scores.
Since these companies check your credit score via a soft inquiry, it does not impact your credit score negatively. And, you can save that $20 you would normally require to access your credit score.
By law, you can request a copy of your credit report from either credit bureau once a year free of charge. Review your credit report and score as often as you can to detect fraudulent activity and notify the authorities and your financial institution should such occur.
3. Monitor Your Bank and Credit Card Statements
This is self-explanatory. Routinely monitor your credit card statements and bank accounts for unauthorized purchases.
4. Request a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze will prevent anyone from accessing your credit report and using your identity to open a credit account. However, it doesn’t protect your existing accounts.
5. Be Wary When Online
Be careful where you input your credit information when online; what you share via emails, or what you post on social media. Routinely change the passwords to your bank and email accounts and do not be the guy who uses passwords like: 123456, password, football, qwerty, or 696969!
6. Make Shredders Great Again
Don’t let shredding go out of fashion! Always shred documents containing your personal information and account statements.
The Equifax breach is a massive one – imagine almost 44% of the U.S. population may have had their personal data exposed! You can expect tonnes of lawsuits (as should be), and it remains to be seen if the company will survive. With everything on the internet these days, cybercrimes will only increase in frequency and sophistication. To protect yourself and your identity, you can start taking small and inexpensive steps today.