Equifax data breach, one year later: New consumer protections but ‘no meaningful sanctions’

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It’s been one year since the Equifax data breach, perhaps the most catastrophic security failure on record when it comes to its effect on U.S. consumers. On September 7, 2017, the Atlanta-based credit-reporting company disclosed that “criminals” were able to exploit a website vulnerability to steal the personal information of as many as 148 million Americans.

Names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and even some credit card numbers were all part of the epic haul. Panic, public backlash and Congressional hearings all followed.

Affected Americans have to watch their credit files closely and deal with the looming threat of identity theft for essentially the rest of their lives, but what else has changed since last September?

Equifax data breach: One year later, here are how things have changed

As for Equifax, one of the three major credit-reporting bureaus, the largest data breach in U.S. history hasn’t really changed much. “They have suffered nearly no meaningful sanctions or penalties to speak of,” money expert Clark Howard says.

In the hours after the hack was revealed, it was Clark who passionately explained to people tuning in on TV, radio and the web the sobering ramifications of the incident. But, he says, there has been something of a silver lining to the breach.

RELATED: Equifax data breach: A look back at our biggest story of 2017

“[O]ne good result that came out of this, among others, is credit freezes, which is one of the best and most important things that you should do as a consumer,” Clark says.

Before the data breach, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian all typically charged people a fee for credit freezes, ranging from $3 to $10 per person per bureau (in some states, it may have been a bit more). That meant that credit freezes were big business, generating millions of dollars per year. But now, things have changed.

Free credit freezes & more: What to expect after September 21

Thanks to a law passed earlier this year, credit freezes will be free for everyone after September 21. Here’s what else consumers can look forward to:
  • Unfreeze your credit for free: In addition to freezing your credit without charge, you will be able to unfreeze or thaw your credit for free as well.
  • Free child credit freezes: Previously, it depended on what state you were in, but the new law will allow parents and guardians to get a free credit freeze for children under age 16.
  • Free fraud alerts: Initial fraud alerts will last for one year, which improves on the previous time period of just 90 days. Identity theft victims will still be able to get extended fraud alerts for seven years.

Clark advocated freezing your credit years before the Equifax data breach. His Credit Freeze Guide has helped untold numbers consumers to protect themselves.

But BEFORE you freeze your credit, here’s what you need to do

Clark recommends these two steps to safeguarding yourself and your information from crooks.

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  1. Sign up for Credit Sesame, CreditKarma.com or a Credit.com account to get free credit monitoring and be notified when anyone tries to use your personal info to establish new credit. Here’s a step-by-step rundown of how to do it. 
  2. If you’re over age 50, you should create a MySocialSecurity account at SSA.gov. This is “where you’re able to monitor that no one is trying to impersonate you at the Social Security Administration to get your benefits,” Clark says.
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