Equifax, one of the big three U.S. credit bureaus announced on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, that a data breach at the company may have exposed 143 million American consumers’ sensitive personal information.

Although Equifax states they found no evidence of unauthorized activity on its core consumer credit reporting database, other information was lost. According to Equifax, the breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. This is the sensitive information fraudsters need to commit identity theft.

In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers, were accessed.

There are steps you can take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

  • Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
  • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until Nov. 21, 2017, to enroll.
  • You also can access frequently asked questions at the site.

Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.

It’s important to keep in mind that any information put at risk by the Equifax breach is separate from your data at Columbia Credit Union, but we want to help you protect both.

We remain ever-vigilant in securing your credit union data and you can help by actively monitoring the activity on your accounts.  If you observe suspicious activity, report it to us immediately.

For additional information:

Federal Trade Commission’s release on the Equifax breach:   https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do.

Equifax’s information on the breach:  https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com

Columbia Credit Union’s Identity Protection Center:  https://www.columbiacu.org/resources/identity-protection-center/