How are area consumers responding to the massive Equifax data breach affecting roughly half of U.S. adults?
Mostly, with a shrug.
Local banks say they have not received many calls from concerned customers in response to Equifax’s announcement last week that 143 million U.S. consumers may have had their personal information compromised. That may be because consumers aren’t aware that the Equifax breach could affect them, or it may because people have grown numb to hearing headlines about large-scale security breaches.
But experts say this breach is different because of its far-reaching impact, and the fact that so much consumer information is involved. Between mid-May and July this year, criminals hacked into a government website application, potentially accessing millions of consumers’ social security numbers, names, dates of birth and in some case, driver’s licenses.
While banks here have not received a frenzy of customer calls, there have been some concerned consumers looking to their local banks or credit unions for more information about how best to respond. Fibre Federal Credit Union launched a special section of its website to answer customer questions. Heritage Bank has trained its employees on ways to respond to worried customers.
“The response from the public to us directly is what I would consider minimal. We’ve had a handful of people who have contacted us,” said Angie Leppert, vice president of marketing and human resources for Longview-based Fibre Federal Credit Union. “For the most part they’re not concerned that it’s tied to us … their questions have been more about, ‘How do I find out what this means to me?’”
Meanwhile U.S. Senator Patty Murray is joining other senators in pressuring the company to take more actions to protect consumers.
Equifax is one of the three biggest credit bureaus responsible for tracking consumer financial information, which serves as the basis Americans’ credit scores. Financial institutions use Equifax and other similar bureaus whenever a customer applies for a loan, a mortgage or a credit card.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to opt out of using Equifax – unless you avoid using credit completely. What consumers can do is be more diligent about monitoring their credit or potentially consider freezing their credit.
Freezing your credit will make it harder for someone to open a new credit account in your name, although that won’t prevent thieves with your information from making charges to your existing accounts. However, any time you apply for a loan or a new credit card, you’ll have to jump through the extra hoop to unfreeze your credit first to do so.
Jeff Deuel, president and Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Bank, said he isn’t advising customers to freeze their credit just yet. Instead, Deuel suggests setting up online fraud alerts and taking the time to read your statements every month.
“Literally read your statement and match your activity against your receipts. Just monitor your account and don’t wait 90 days before looking at it. The sooner you pick up on a problem, the sooner you get it resolved,” Deuel said.
Fibre Federal Credit Union offers a service called CardVallet, an app that allows you to control where and how your credit or debit card is used. Most online banking sites also have a way to set up notifications about spending or set limits on the card’s use.
Leppert also suggested people check their credit reports online for free at www.annualcreditreport.com, which accesses information from Equifax and the other two major consumer credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion. Monitoring your credit report for signs of unusual accounts or activity can help you catch identity theft early on.
Consumers can also check to see if their information may have been compromised by the Equifax breach visiting www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, where you’ll have to enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. This won’t tell you definitively if hackers have their hands on your information, it can only tell you if hackers may have your information.
For U.S. consumers, Equifax is also offering a year of free credit monitoring and identify theft protection services through its product TrustedID. At first customers who enrolled TrustedID relinquished their ability to sign on to class-action lawsuits against Equifax. However, under pressure from politicians the company now has removed that clause from the TrustedID product.
Sen. Murray’s office said the company’s terms of services could still limit consumer’s ability to sue Equifax if their information was affected.
Murray and 19 other senators sent a letter to Equifax this week asking the company to drop any clauses that could force customers into arbitration proceedings and limit their ability to participate in class-action lawsuits. The coalition of Democratic senators is also asking the company whether it supports a new rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to limit the use of forced arbitration in the financial service sector.