In the most massive data breach ever, more than 143 million Americans may have been compromised after hackers broke into the files of Equifax, one of the country’s (and the world’s) largest collectors and providers of personal credit information. Officials at Equifax have admitted that there was unauthorized access to their data banks in mid-May and that the company did not discover the invasion until the end of July. The hackers had access to names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security information and even driver’s license numbers. Equifax has confirmed that more than 200,000 personal credit card numbers were compromised.
The breach has left many consumers unsure of what to do and how to protect themselves against similar intrusions. Equifax has long held itself out to be a trusted source for sensitive personal financial data, but the company now finds itself looking for ways to improve its own security mechanisms.
The company, located in Atlanta, is one of the top three players in the American credit reporting industry, collecting and managing financial information on more than 800 million consumers and almost 100 million business entities.
According to reports by USA Today, at least 23 class-action lawsuits relating to the data breach have been filed already, and many more are expected. Some legal experts say this has the potential to be the largest class-action lawsuit in history, with nearly half of Americans potentially at risk. In a class action, all plaintiffs with similar claims against a common defendant are represented collectively by one similarly-situated person, eliminating the need for each person affected to file an individual lawsuit.
Equifax officials admitted that they learned of the breach nearly two months ago, but waited to make a public disclosure until they had received and reviewed a report from an independent security company hired to determine the cause of the breach and make recommendations for tighter security./p>
Consumers won’t be the only ones to potentially sustain losses—Equifax stockholders have seen the value of their investment drop more than 10% in the last week.
So what can you do to protect yourself? One government official recommends that you monitor your credit report on a regular basis, pay closer attention to your bank statements, put fraud alerts on any credit cards you hold, and file tax returns as early as possible.