By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you’ve ever owned a car, credit card or house, your credit information is probably in the hands of Equifax. The Atlanta company is one of the top three credit reporting companies in the nation.

But on Sept. 7, Equifax made the public admission that its data servers had been hacked sometime between last May and mid-July, 2017. It acknowledges that the private financial information of 143 million people is likely compromised.

“This is the most egregious data breach we have ever seen,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy.

Massachusetts is among the growing list of states now suing Equifax on behalf of the millions of customers whose data was hacked.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson says she is deeply concerned about the breach and will study possible legal action as well. It’s thought that the private information of 2 million Minnesotans is part of the breach.

Cybersecurity expert Mark Lanterman with Computer Forensic Services of Minnetonka says it’s the kind of data involved that makes this breach so bad. Lanterman says, far worse than the 2013 Target breach of credit cards which affected an estimated 40 million customers.

“We have had our names, our dates of birth, our social security numbers, our driver’s license numbers compromised. This is far worse than any retail credit card breach,” Lanterman said.

Since news of the hacking broke on Sept. 7, the company’s stock has exploded, losing a third of its value. Equifax could also face a federal investigation involving insider trading.

The company confirms that three of its executives sold nearly $1.8 million in stock just days after the breach was discovered in late July. But Equifax added they were not aware of that information at the time of the trades.

Equifax has established both a hotline and website to identify and advise those affected.

On its website, Equifax CEO Rick Smith explains, “this unprecedented step of offering every U.S. customer in the country a comprehensive package of identity theft protection and credit file monitoring at no cost.”

But most importantly, Lanterman advises people to be extra vigilant and monitor all credit and banking accounts closely.

“If you’re able catch fraud on your credit report, if you catch that quickly enough, you can help control any potential damage,” Lanterman said.

Under intense criticism from lawmakers, Equifax changed its rules so that customers do not lose the right to litigation if they enroll in the protection program.

In addition, it promises not to automatically enroll or charge customers at the end the free year of credit monitoring or charge them fees for a credit freeze or suspension.

For added safety, consumers can request either a credit freeze or a fraud alert from any of the three reporting services.

A credit freeze prevents anyone, including the consumer from opening new credit. You will have the option of lifting that freeze temporarily for a small fee.

A fraud alert will basically raise a red flag to notify both you and creditors of suspicious activity. However, it is free but will only be in effect for 90 days without renewing it

The Federal Trade Commission has some great tips for dealing with the Equifax breach here.


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