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Why You Should Worry About Equifax Data Breach

By Maria Elena Cruz

SAN ANTONIO—Thursday, September 21, 2017–Millions of people are expected to be affected by the recent data breach at credit monitoring giant Equifax. During the summer, hackers infiltrated Equifax company databases and stole personal information from more than 140 million Americans, including 12 million Texans, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Of all those, hundreds of thousands are students. According to the FTC, students are the second largest group to fall victims to identity theft.  The Equifax breach, due to its broad impact, prompted the AG’s office to issue an alert on September 12, 2017 for all Texans.

Attorney General Paxton said in the alert posted on his website that they are aggressively working the issue. “We will do what’s necessary to hold Equifax accountable,” said Paxton, “In the meantime, I encourage Texans to educate themselves about how to best protect their personal information and to file a complaint with my office if they have any concerns about this breach.”

A student swipes her card while making a purchase at the Bookstore. Many Identitiy thieves use oportunities such as this one to steal card information.

 

While the AG’s office assures it is working to get details about how this breach could have happened, little or nothing may be done to ensure consumers will not have their identities stolen. For students, this fact could prove to be doubly damaging. Many students are just now embarking on their financial journey into adulthood. Part of that journey, a large part, entails good credit. A credit breach of this magnitude could put hundreds of thousands of students at risk of severe credit damage. The AG’s office says thieves typically steal credit card information to make purchases, if they cannot obtain credit card information, they go for personal information that may allow them to open new accounts in the victim’s name.

According to Consumer Report magazine, students tend to be easy prey for students. The fact they use mobile devices far more than their predecessors makes them vulnerable to phone hacks, aiming to steal personal data or credit card information from their phones. However, the Federal Trade Commission says identity theft can be perpetrated using variety of methods, from low-tech methods like purse snatching or “dumpster diving,” to high-tech techniques like deceptive “phishing” e-mails or malicious software known as “spyware.”

Wells Fargo Banker Alejandro Martinez says students and young adults get too busy with life to worry about frequently monitoring their credit reports. Many times, students found out they had been a victim of identity-theft fraud only after they were denied credit or contacted by a debt collector. “People will start worrying when something like this happens,” said Martinez. “When there is a big hack of data like this, or their credit card starts calling them, that’s when people worry.” Martinez recommends spending the minimal cash to add extra security measures, but says nothing will replace a simple check.

Students spend more time on their phones entering personal data than the average adult, according to Consumer Report Magazine.

“It’s as easy as adding a tracking ap,” said Martinez, “You can use an ap like Credit Karma. It is easy and emails or texts you an alert every time there is a change in your credit score, good or bad,” he said. “This is the best way for a busy student to stay on top of their financial situation. Good credit is important. It is important for students to start thinking about how keeping a high credit score will benefit them in the future, part of that is making sure they protect themselves and if they fall victims to identity theft, it is important to know what to do.”

Junior Marisol Aguilar says she never thinks about her credit report. “I wouldn’t even know where to start,” says Gutierrez, “I don’t know who to call or anything if I suspected someone stole my social security or something. I know I should know but if my identity was to be stolen in this hack I wouldn’t even know what to do, sad.”
The Federal Trade Commission reported Identity theft tops the list of consumer complaints that are reported to the FTC and other enforcement agencies every year. The most recent figures from the Bureau of Justice statistics indicate that 11.7 million people, representing 5 percent of all people in the U.S. age 16 and older, were victims of identity theft.

The FTC says students make up the second-largest group of Identitiy Theft victims, second only to the ederly.

Among the data most stolen in the Equifax data breach were “social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and in some cases, driver’s license numbers.

If you suspect your information has been stolen, check out this video on what to do next.

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The Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office offers the following tips to those who may be affected by the Equifax data breach:

Check your credit report by going to a free service: www.annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft.

Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. Such action makes it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name.

If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. It warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name.

Beware of email and telephone scams related to the data breach. Don’t give out personal information to those who contact you asking for information to verify accounts, and be wary of clicking on links or downloading attachments in email messages. Legitimate businesses do not ask consumers to verify account information via cold calls or emails. If in doubt, contact the bank or business directly at a phone number or website known to you.

Carefully review bank and credit card account statements and look for unauthorized charges.  If you find any, contact the bank or business immediately to dispute them.

When it’s tax season, consider filing early and look out for any correspondence from the IRS. This will lessen the chance of someone fraudulently filing on your behalf. This is especially important if you’ve confirmed you’re a victim of identity theft.

For more information on how to protect your credit and personal information, visit the Fighting Identity Theft page of the attorney general’s website at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/identitytheft. If you believe you are a victim of the data breach, you can file a complaint online at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint.  

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