143 Million People Potentially Affected in Equifax Data Breach
Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies in the United States, was recently the victim of a massive cyber attack—an attack that may have compromised the personal information of 143 million people.
The breach itself occurred between mid-May and July 2017 when cybercriminals gained access to sensitive data by exploiting a weak point in website software. As a result of the attack, sensitive information like Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses and driver’s license numbers were compromised. In addition, Equifax said 209,000 credit card numbers were stolen, including information from international customers in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The recent attack on Equifax is the third major cybersecurity threat the organization has experienced since 2015 and one of the largest risks to personally sensitive information over the past few years. The attack is so severe, in fact, it’s likely that anyone with a credit report was affected.
If you are concerned that the breach may have impacted you, Equifax has set up a website to help individuals determine if any of their personal information may have been stolen. Once you have navigated to the website, complete the following steps:
- Click the “Check Potential Impact” button.
- Provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.
From there, a dialogue box will pop up and indicate whether or not your information was lost in the hack. All U.S. customers will also be given the opportunity to sign up for TrustedID Premier, which is an Equifax service that includes identity theft insurance, credit reports, and a service that crawls the internet and alerts you if your Social Security number is posted somewhere online. This service will be free for one year for those who sign up by Nov. 21.
If you have been impacted by the breach, experts recommend engaging in a credit freeze. This effectively locks down your Social Security number on your credit report and prevents criminals from opening up new lines of credit under your name. For more information on credit freezes, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
It should be noted that it may not be obvious that you are a customer of Equifax, as the company gets its data from credit card companies, banks, and lenders that report on credit activity. As such, it’s important to follow the appropriate steps and check to see if your information was compromised.
Additionally, you should review your online bank and credit card statements on a weekly basis. This will help you monitor any suspicious activity. Contact law enforcement officials if you believe criminals have used your stolen information in some way.
Sapoznik Insurance will continue to monitor the Equifax cyber incident, providing any major updates as necessary.
Donating to Disasters and Avoiding Scams
Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma are the strongest storms to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. News of the damage is prompting people to help in whatever ways they can. Unfortunately, some dishonest people prey upon people’s good intentions, creating fake charity campaigns to exploit victims and take advantage of those who want to help.
How to Avoid Scams
Despite the sense of urgency to help when disaster strikes, it is important to do some research before donating. Consider the following best practices to ensure that your resources go to a legitimate charity with experience in disaster relief:
- Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities do not ask for wire transfers. Once you wire the money, you’ll probably never get it back.
- Be cautious about bloggers and social media posts that provide charity suggestions. Don’t assume that the person recommending the charity has fully researched the organization’s credibility.
- Only donate through a charity’s official website, never through emails. Scammers have a knack for creating fake email accounts that seem legitimate.
- Ensure that the charity explains on its website how your money will be used.
- Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. That is often a false claim, as well-structured organizations need to use some of their donations to cover administrative costs.
- Never offer unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security number or a copy of your driver’s license. However, it is common for legitimate charities to ask for your mailing address, and it is safe for you to provide it.
How to Choose a Charity
Even legitimate charities need to be considered with care. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding new charities because, despite their legitimacy, they may not have the resources needed to get your money to its intended recipients.
Donors looking for a worthy charity can access an unbiased, objective list on a website called Charity Navigator. The site receives a Form 990 for all of its charities directly from the IRS, so it knows exactly how the charities spend their money and use their donations. It also rates charities based on their location, tax status, length of operation, accountability, transparency and public support.
Gaining popularity for charitable donations is a crowdfunding website called GoFundMe, which allows people to raise money for a wide variety of circumstances. Despite its popularity, visitors to the site should be cautious about the campaigns to which they donate. Visitors can report suspicious campaigns directly to GoFundMe via its official website or to their state’s consumer protection hotline.
The following national organizations have long-standing reputations for providing disaster relief and accepting donations:
- The American Red Cross provides shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to people affected by disasters.
- AmeriCares takes medicine and supplies to survivors.
- Catholic Charities USA supports disaster response and recovery efforts that include direct assistance, rebuilding and health care services.
- The Salvation Army provides shelter and emergency services to displaced individuals.
Remember that there are other ways to provide disaster relief that don’t involve monetary donations, especially if you live near the affected area. Local food banks and blood centers commonly ask for donations during relief efforts.
Rachel Sapoznik was recently interviewed on Facebook Live by Florida Sun Studios. She shared a great deal of insight on healthcare, her 30 years in business, wellness initiatives, ways to empower yourself regarding your health and more. If you missed the Facebook Live, click on the link to catch up.