Nearly third of adults unaware of Equifax data breach
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 Creditcards.com, 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.equifaxsecurity2017.com) 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 at www.annualcreditreport. 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 www.change.org 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.”