Equifax Data Breach – Millions Still at Risk
There are three big credit reporting companies that routinely give out free credit score checks to Americans every day. It’s free, online, and pretty easy to do – a theoretical trifecta in today’s world. The biggest strengths can also be the biggest weaknesses however. When something goes horribly wrong with a free service, what exactly are the repercussions and how can you protect yourself?
Credit score and your personal information
Most people know that a credit score determines your financial future. Your finances are directly linked to your most valuable personal information, like your social security number or bank account number. A credit score, though only three digits long, is quite important.
According to Investopedia, a credit score is a statistical number that evaluates a consumer’s creditworthiness and is based on credit history. Lenders, such as banks and other financial institutions, use credit scores to evaluate whether or not someone will repay their debts.
These lenders run a credit check and see what your score is before loaning you money for a car, house, or business. The higher your score, the better your financial future will fare.
According to Investopedia/Credit Sesame, credit scores are divvied up as follows:
- Excellent: 750 and above
- Good: 700 to 749
- Fair: 650 to 699
- Poor: 550 to 649
- Bad: 550 and below
It’s generally a good idea to run a yearly credit score check to see if there are any red flags. If your score drops because of new credit cards that you didn’t open, then your information has definitely been stolen. More likely than not, it is floating around online for criminals to use. Consult a professional to see what can be done to protect yourself in a time of digital turbulence.
Personal information such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, current and former addresses – information that almost everyone is warned to keep secret and carefully tucked away – is now entered online and sent thousands of miles away with ease.
If you’ve used Equifax or another online credit checking agency, but have never really thought about giving your most valuable identifying information away to a website, then you’re probably exposed online to fraudsters right now. You’re not alone however, most of America, if not most online users worldwide, are in the same situation as you. The numbers are truly staggering.
Weak security, valuable information
It wasn’t always this easy to steal personal information. Before the internet, stealing information usually meant breaking into a physical office and stealing actual pieces of paper. Physical offices have security cameras and guards, along with locks and keys. Almost all companies are willing to spend a lot of money to protect physical assets vital to company operations. However, Equifax did not see the need to properly protect its digitally connected assets. If it works, why replace it? For most industries, this is logical and a rational way of thinking, but technology becomes obsolete in a matter of years even if it still works perfectly.
Many companies spend top-dollar on computer hardware that will last them years and years without breaking down. Non-tech companies think it should last X number of years for Y number of dollars to make Z amounts of profit. This is a simple formula that non-tech companies have successfully followed for hundreds of years. Replacing hardware early costs money and affects the company’s bottom-line. What’s there to lose?
Why replace it? What’s there to lose?
Non-tech companies in the past decade or so have found out that there are numerous reasons to replace old technology. Simply put, there’s a lot to lose financially. It turns out those big black boxes called “servers” actually hold millions if not billions of dollars in digital currency called “personal information.”
Customer credit cards, social security numbers, addresses, passwords, and almost everything under the sun is stored in company servers. A company that continues to expand its online operations without upgrading its hardware is like a city that sells cars but doesn’t build new roads. In the foreseeable future, there will be big problems.
Keep in mind, broadband internet is fairly new in the history of mankind and there are millions of people who have no idea how to handle identity theft online or offline. Maybe top-level executives know how to run a business but were completely blindsided by the digital revolution. Equifax, whether the company decided to put on blinders or were blindsided, billions of dollars were lost and millions of people are dealing with a personal information Y2K.
MarketWatch reported on September 14, 2017 that 143+ million Americans were potentially affected by the breach. For reference, the United States has a population of around 300~330 million, so about half of the population was affected. This massive breach last year resulted in a $5.3 billion loss – meaning Equifax as a company was worth $5.3 billion dollars less after announcing millions upon millions of people could be hurt by this.
If a company makes a multibillion-dollar mistake that directly and negatively affects its customers, then what are the financial consequences for those who have had their personal information leaked on the internet?
Prevention is protection
By now you should know that financial fraud affects your credit score, thereby affecting your finances. In order to straighten out something distorted by criminal activity, it usually takes both time and money. In theory, victims of crime shouldn’t have to pay any money to receive justice. In reality, the wheels of justice take time to move and lawyers aren’t free.
An effective alternative is to consult a professional who specializes in removing information from the internet. If you Google yourself and find out that you have an unauthorized online profile with intimate details, then you should get it taken down as soon as possible, which might not be easy since it’s unauthorized.
You also probably don’t know how to get a hold of Google, Yahoo, and/or Microsoft for one specific website out of millions. If your private information shows up on one search engine, then other search engines have most likely picked it up as well. That’s three separate companies to contact.
There are professionals who know how to contact search engines and remove your online footprints from the internet. The value provided by their services far outweigh the consequences of fraud and theft. Protect yourself by keeping your personal information where it belongs.