Equifax hackers may use Social Security numbers to impersonate you

Updated September 8, 2017 - 4:29 pm

NEW YORK — There’s no way around it: The news from credit reporting company Equifax that 143 million Americans had their information exposed is extremely serious.

Crucial pieces of personal data that criminals could use to commit identity theft — Social Security numbers, birthdates, address histories, legal names — were all obtained. That’s information that cannot change. And once that data is out there, it’s basically out there forever.

“The crown jewels of personal information were exposed and potentially stolen,” said John Ulzheimer, an independent credit consultant who previously worked at Equifax.

Equifax’s key role in the financial industry makes this breach more alarming than previous ones at Yahoo or retailers. It’s a storehouse of personal information, like how much people owe on their houses and whether they have court judgments against them.

Lenders rely on the information collected by three big credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — to help them decide whether to approve financing for homes, cars and credit cards. Credit checks are sometimes done by employers when deciding whom to hire for a job.

Atlanta-based Equifax said Thursday that “criminals” exploited a U.S. website application to access the files between mid-May and July of this year. It discovered the hack July 29, but waited until Thursday to warn consumers.

As a consumer, what to do

Beyond the usual steps of checking credit reports regularly and watching for abnormal transactions on your accounts, it may be time to take more extreme measures to lock down your information.

The strongest possible option a person can take immediately is placing what’s known as a credit freeze on their files with the major credit bureaus. That locks down a person’s information, making it impossible to open new accounts and bank cards in their name.

But taking that option also locks you out from opening new accounts. It also can come with a fee with each of the bureaus, depending on which state you live in.

“The credit freeze is the nuclear option of credit protection. But in the wake of a breach this big, it’s worth considering,” said Matt Schulz, an analyst with CreditCards.com.

Consumers will need to be more careful about checking their credit reports. U.S. law gives every American the right to get those files for free once a year from the three major bureaus. While many websites market access to your credit reports, the official one is annualcreditreport.com.

It’s best to spread those requests out over the year — do one every four months, experts say. And expect to check this information not just in the immediate future, but for the long term — potentially years.

“Bad guys can be very patient with data. This should be a wake-up call to be even more diligent with your information,” Schulz said.

Ulzheimer says an option consumers should consider is setting up fraud alerts on your files. That would require creditors to contact you directly, usually by phone, for approval before allowing an account to be opened. That gives people a more active role, rather passively monitoring or freezing your entire file. Bureaus also must contact each other when a fraud alert is placed.

Need an even more extreme step? People can request to change their Social Security number with the Social Security Administration if they have repeatedly been a victim of identity fraud under their original number.

Equifax has a website, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/, where people can check if their information may have been stolen. Consumers can also call 866-447-7559 for information. The company also says it will send mail to all who had personally identifiable information stolen.

Size and scope

This isn’t the biggest data breach in history. That indignity still belongs to Yahoo, which was targeted in at least two separate digital burglaries that affected more than 1 billion of its users’ accounts throughout the world. But no Social Security numbers or drivers’ license information were disclosed in the Yahoo break-in.

Equifax’s security lapse could be the largest theft involving Social Security numbers, one of the most common methods used to confirm a person’s identity in the U.S. It eclipses a 2015 hack at health insurer Anthem Inc. that involved the Social Security numbers of about 80 million people.

Any data breach threatens to tarnish a company’s reputation, but it is especially mortifying for Equifax, whose entire business revolves around being a secure storehouse and providing a clear financial profile of consumers that lenders and other businesses can trust.

And a security expert said the website created Equifax to help customers find out if their information was stolen raises its own security questions. The site looks like the kind set up by attackers to trick people into disclosing information, says Georgia Weidman, founder and chief technology officer for security firm Shevirah.

“It’s teaching people entirely the wrong things about using the internet securely,” Weidman said. She said says she’s also troubled by Equifax’s approach to security generally, including reports that it didn’t respond to basic scripting bugs it was warned about last year.

In addition to the personal information, Equifax said the credit card numbers for about 209,000 U.S. consumers were also taken, as were “certain dispute documents” containing personal information for approximately 182,000 people in the U.S.

The company said hackers may have some “limited personal information” about British and Canadian residents, but doesn’t believe that consumers from other countries were affected.

Fallout

The enormity of the breach has put immense financial and political pressure on Equifax.

Washington regulators and politicians swiftly criticized Equifax, and Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said he will call for congressional hearings.

Equifax’s requirement that affected customers sign up for arbitration also drew a backlash. Democrats in the House and Senate called on the company to pull back its requirement that anyone who signs up for credit monitoring give up their right to sue Equifax in a class-action lawsuit.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the nation’s chief watchdog for financial services, called the breach “troubling” and said Equifax should drop the arbitration requirement. The CFPB recently passed a rule requiring financial companies to let customers sue together when a large group has been wronged.

Several state attorneys general also stepped in. New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, said he was starting his own investigation.

Company executives are also under scrutiny, after it was found that three Equifax executives sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered the breach, according to documents filed with securities regulators. Equifax said the three executives “had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time they sold their shares.”

Equifax shares fell about 13 percent to $123.75 in heavy trading. The decline equates to about $2.28 billion in lost market value.

ad-high_impact_4
Business
President Trump’s tariffs could raise costs for real estate developers, analysts say
President Donald Trump made his fortune in real estate, but by slapping tariffs on imports from close allies, developers in Las Vegas and other cities could get hit hard.
Las Vegas business and tariffs
Barry Yost, co-owner of Precision Tube Laser, LLC, places a metal pipe into the TruLaser Tube 5000 laser cutting machine on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Nevada Film Office Connects Businesses To Producers
The director of the Nevada Film Office discusses its revamped locations database and how it will affect local businesses. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Opendoor isn't the typical house flipping company
Unlike most house flippers, the company aims to make money from transaction costs rather than from selling homes for more than their purchase price.
The Venetian gondoliers sing Italian songs
Gondolier Marciano sings a the classic Italian song "Volare" as he leads guests through the canals of The Venetian in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Building In Logandale
Texas homebuilder D.R. Horton bought 43 lots in rural Logandale. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter announces plans to retire
Rossi Ralenkotter, CEO of the LVCVA, on Tuesday confirmed a Las Vegas Review-Journal report that he is preparing to retire. Richard N. Velotta/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Cousins Maine Lobster to open inside 2 Las Vegas Smith’s stores
Cousins Maine Lobster food truck company will open inside Las Vegas’ two newest Smith’s at Skye Canyon Park Drive and U.S. Highway 95, and at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive. Cousins currently sells outside some Las Vegas Smith’s stores and at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices to continue to rise, expert says
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, gives homebuyers a pulse on the Las Vegas housing market. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NV Energy announces clean energy investment
The company is planning to add six solar projects in Nevada, along with the state's first major battery energy storage capacity. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
3 Mario Batali restaurants on Las Vegas Strip to close
Days after new sexual misconduct allegations were made against celebrity chef Mario Batali, his company announced Friday that it will close its three Las Vegas restaurants July 27. Employees of Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria, all located in The Venetian and Palazzo resorts, were informed of the decision Friday morning. Bastianich is scheduled to visit the restaurants Friday to speak to employees about the next two months of operation as well as how the company plans to help them transition to new positions.
Nevada has its first cybersecurity apprenticeship program
The Learning Center education company in Las Vegas has launched the first apprenticeship program for cybersecurity in Nevada. It was approved by the State Apprenticeship Council on May 15. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas union members voting to authorize the right to strike
Thousands of Las Vegas union members voting Tuesday morning to authorize the right to strike. A “yes” vote would give the union negotiating committee the power to call a strike anytime after June 1 at the resorts that fail to reach an agreement. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Small businesses struggle to find qualified candidates
A 2018 survey found that over two-thirds of small businesses in Nevada find it somewhat to very difficult to recruit qualified candidates. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Nevada secretary of state website offers little protection against fraudulent business filings
Property developer Andy Pham tells how control of his business was easily seized by another person using the secretary of state website.
Caesars may be going solo in its marijuana policy
Several Southern Nevada casino companies aren’t following Caesars Entertainment’s lead on marijuana testing.
How much is the Lucky Dragon worth?
Less than a year-and-a-half after it opened, the Lucky Dragon was in bankruptcy.
Gyms and discount stores take over empty retail spaces
Grocery stores used to draw people to shopping centers. But many large retail spaces have been vacant since 2008. Discount stores like goodwill and gyms like EOS Fitness are filling those empty spaces, and helping to draw shoppers back in. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Funding source of Las Vegas stadium for the Raiders is sound, expert says
The stadium is funded in part by $750 million of room taxes, the biggest such tax subsidy ever for a professional sports stadium. Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute at UNLV, says that is a good use of public funds. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas needs light rail, expert says
Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute said he is afraid of a "congestion mobility crisis." Las Vegas needs a light rail system, he said, to accommodate the city's growing number of attractions. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three takeaways from Wynn Resorts' Earnings Call
Matt Maddox came out swinging in his first earnings conference call as Wynn Resorts chief executive officer, boasting of record Las Vegas quarterly revenues and applicants lining up for work.
Star Wars VR Comes to Las Vegas
Sneak peak at the new "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" VR experience at the Grand Canal Shoppes.
Elaine Wynn continues her fight to change Wynn Resorts board
Elaine Wynn, the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts Ltd., is seeking to kick a friend of her ex-husband Steve Wynn off the company’s board of directors. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zillow is getting into house flipping in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Review-Journal real estate reporter Eli Segall says flipping houses has waned in popularity after the housing bubble burst.
Ellis Island Buys Mt. Charleston Lodge
Ellis Island, which operates a casino, brewery and hotel just off the Strip, purchased the Mt. Charleston Lodge in early April.
Casinos to be penalized for allowing drug-impaired customers to gamble
Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo talks about an amendment making casinos subject to the same disciplinary standards of preventing people to gamble if impaired by drugs as they are for letting them play while intoxicated by alcohol.
Terrible Herbst to open large travel center in Southern Nevada
The 50,000-square-foot commercial travel center will include 96 fuel pumps and the third White Castle restaurant in Southern Nevada. Wade Tyler Millward reports.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like