Nearly third of adults un­aware of Equifax data breach

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Business - By Pa­tri­cia Sabatini

A new sur­vey has found that roughly 30 per­cent of adults — or about 71 mil­lion peo­ple — know noth­ing about the colos­sal Equifax data breach made pub­lic early last month.

The head of the non-profit Iden­tity Theft Re­source Cen­ter called that level of clue­less­ness “deeply con­cern­ing.”

“If peo­ple aren’t aware that they have been placed at an in­creased risk [for ID theft], then they aren’t tak­ing any pre­cau­tions, or at least ex­am­in­ing the pre­cau­tions they should em­ploy,” said Eva Ve­lasquez, the cen­ter’s CEO.

The sur­vey, re­leased this week by Cred­it­, found that half of younger mil­len­ni­als (age 1826) were un­aware the data leak had oc­curred, the most of any age group.

On the up­side, about one-quar­ter of adults — or some 61 mil­lion peo­ple — said they had checked their credit score or credit re­port in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the breach be­com­ing pub­lic.

The hack ex­posed names, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, birth­dates and ad­dresses of an es­ti­mated 145 mil­lion Amer­i­cans.

Af­ter the breach was dis­closed, peo­ple flooded the re­source cen­ter’s phone lines and web­site look­ing for help, Ms. Ve­lasquez said. The cen­ter re­ceived more calls in Septem­ber than in any month since it started track­ing them in 2006.

“It’s been a mixed re­sponse, rang­ing from anger and out­rage to fear and panic, with some con­fu­sion in the mid­dle,” she said. “I know peo­ple are crav­ing in­for­ma­tion about what all of this means to them.”

Ad­van­tage Credit Coun­sel­ing Ser­vice on the South Side hasn’t re­ceived many calls about the breach, but heard from a few con­sumers ag­i­tated over Equifax’s re­sponse.

“They wanted to talk to a live per­son” at Equifax to get in­for­ma­tion in­stead of lis­ten­ing to a record­ing or go­ing on­line, said Heather Mur­ray, man­ager of reg­u­la­tory com­pli­ance and ed­u­ca­tion at the coun­sel­ing ser­vice.

Con­sumers who are part of the breach (peo­ple can find out by

vis­it­ing Equifax’s spe­cial web­site, www.equifaxse­cu­ should take steps to pro­tect them­selves from ID theft, ex­perts say.

“The big­gest thing we want peo­ple to do is take a look at their credit re­ports,” Ms. Ve­lasquez said. “Re­view them and make sure there is no ac­tiv­ity or en­tries that are un­fa­mil­iar. If there are, fol­low up to make sure there is not an is­sue of fraud.”

The re­ports should be checked reg­u­larly, not just once, she said. Con­sumers are en­ti­tled to a free re­port an­nu­ally from each of the ma­jor credit bu­reaus at­nu­al­cred­itre­port. or by call­ing 877322-8228.

In ad­di­tion, although some peo­ple have flinched at the idea, they should sign up for the credit mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice that Equifax is of­fer­ing for free for one year.

“I un­der­stand the emo­tions when peo­ple say [Equifax] caused the prob­lem, and now you are ask­ing me to get help from them. I un­der­stand the rub there, but you are still bet­ter off,” Ms. Ve­lasquez said.

The cen­ter also is “strongly en­cour­ag­ing” peo­ple to con­sider freez­ing their credit re­ports, she said, which pre­vents credit bu­reaus from re­leas­ing a con­sumer’s file with­out per­mis­sion. Be­cause most busi­nesses won’t ex­tend credit with­out pulling a credit re­port, ID thieves are blocked from open­ing fraud­u­lent ac­counts.

The re­source cen­ter is urg­ing peo­ple to sign a pe­ti­tion at that it hopes will con­vince the ma­jor credit bu­reaus to al­low con­sumers to ini­ti­ate a credit freeze for free, and to tem­po­rar­ily thaw a freeze for free once a year. Right now, those ac­tions typ­i­cally cost $10.

The cen­ter also thinks Equifax should be forced to of­fer free credit mon­i­tor­ing for breach vic­tims for longer than one year.

“The data that was stolen is not go­ing to get stale or age out. So putting any time cap on the fraud de­tec­tion is not go­ing to make peo­ple whole,” Ms. Ve­lasquez said.

“You are just as vul­ner­a­ble a year af­ter the breach as you were the day of the breach.”

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