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The Equifax Data Breach: could this be avoided?

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the United States three major credit reporting agencies.

Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.

There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)

  • Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
  • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until January 31, 2018 to enroll.
  • You also can access frequently asked questions at the site.

Two senators proposed “massive and mandatory” fines for data breaches at Equifax Inc. and other credit reporting companies, starting at $100 for each consumer whose sensitive information is compromised.

The bill from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) would add a $50 fine for each additional piece of compromised personally identifiable information for each consumer. The penalties would double in cases where the credit reporting firm did not comply with federal data security standards or failed to notify officials of the breach in a timely manner.

If the legislation had been in place when Equifax had a data breach last year that exposed the Social Security numbers and birth dates of as many as 145.5 million Americans, Equifax would have faced a fine of at least $1.5 billion, the senators said.

The bill, called the Data Breach and Compensation Act, would direct the Federal Trade Commission to funnel half of any fine to compensate affected consumers. The agency could levy fines of as much as 75% of the credit reporting company’s gross revenue from the prior year.

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