Much of how the Equifax data breach actually happened is still unknown. What is known however, is that this cyber-attack has the potential to cause potential and current homeowners some serious headaches. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 143 million American consumers had their personal data swiped during the theft.
This information could include your address, Social Security number, driver’s license, and of course, your credit card numbers. This information is valuable insofar as it can fetch a pretty penny on the “Dark Web.” So with nearly half of America exposed to credit fraud and identity theft, it’s important to consider what you can do now, what aspects of your financial life will be affected, and if anything will change with your mortgage.
What is Equifax and do I have a Credit Report?
Sorry to say it, but if you have credit, it’s highly probably (I’d hazard to guess around a 50% chance) that your information has wound up in the wrong hands. This is due to the data breach at one the three largest credit reporting agencies in the country, Equifax.
Red flags that something was amiss were raised in May, 2017. At this time, cyber thieves began accessing social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and credit card numbers. On July 29, 2017, Equifax finally discovered their vulnerability. However, by that time, millions of people’s data had become exposed. Moreover, it wasn’t until September 2017 that Equifax publicly announced the breach.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself?
The first step is to figure out if your information was stolen. According to Equifax’s Cybersecurity Incident & Important Consumer Information report, they will “send direct mail notices to consumers whose credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information were impacted.”
Equifax also recommends enrolling in identify theft protection and credit file monitoring.
It’s important to monitor your accounts statements and credit reports. To obtain a free copy of your credit report you can request a copy one every 12 months by:
- Visiting www.annualcreditreport.com
- Calling toll-free 1-877-322-8228
- Mailing an Annual Credit Report Request Form (available at www.annualcreditreport.com) to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA, 30348-5281
Equifax also offers a complimentary one year subscription to an identity theft protection and credit monitoring product called TrustedID Premier. Early in the firestorm of this cyber-theft, Equifax limited the consumer’s right to sue when they enrolled in their free credit monitoring service.
However, in response to mass public outcry, their policy has since been updated, and this no longer seems to be the case. Moreover, no credit card is needed to sign up for TrustedID, so you won’t have to worry about being charged come the end of your subscription.
How Could This Affect My Mortgage?
Even Equifax is unable to be 100% sure if your information is currently being used or in the hands of a hacker. Alas, meticulously monitoring your credit reports and accounts is the only surefire way to ensure your financial safety.
The effects of this breach will be far-reaching, placing people at risk even years down the line. With your information in hand, five, ten, 15 years from now, criminals could potentially take a mortgage out under your name. For this reason, you need to keep monitoring your credit.
While you may be tempted to freeze your credit, as it stops new credits cards and loans from being opened under your name, doing so will also prevent you from being able to open new accounts. In order to apply for a mortgage, you would then need to lift the freeze for each application. If you do decide to freeze your account, be aware that there is generally a $10 fee.
A Look into the Future of Mortgages
Because of their haphazard cybersecurity practice, Equifax has put nearly half of America up against the wall. For years to come, everyone with a credit report is going to have to monitor their accounts with a watchful eye.
On the flipside, these events have happened before. Consider Target in 2013, the DDoS attacks in 2002, and even Google back in 2009. Despite these malicious cyber attacks, we’re still here. By no means should this reflection of past threats minimize the damage caused by the Equifax breach, but prospective and current homeowners alike should remember that credit is a valuable monetary tool, and that those who use it responsibly and monitor their reports closely will prevail.