A data breach at credit bureau Equifax may have compromised up to 143 million people’s personal information on Thursday.
Credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax, told Business Insider that although data breaches might almost seem run of the mill these days — think Yahoo, MySpace, Home Depot, and Target — the Equifax breach is a bigger deal than usual for two reasons: the type of information compromised, and the breadth of the hack.
Credit card numbers aren’t a huge deal, said Ulzheimer. Because credit card companies offer a degree of fraud protection, and because they’re used to stolen cards and numbers, a hacker stealing your card info is more annoying than it is serious. (Remember that debit cards do not have the same level of fraud protection.)
But the Equifax breach may have compromised:
- Social Security numbers
- credit card numbers
- personal documents
“This information has what I call ‘perpetual value,'” said Ulzheimer. “You’re not going to change your name. You’re not going to move. You’re not going to change your phone number.”
Data points like that — names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers — are “the crown jewels for a fraudster,” he continued. “In five years, your information from this data breach is going to be just as valuable as it is right now.”
The other reason this breach stands out from those in the past is its sheer size: 143 million potential accounts means “well over half the people in this country that have a credit report” are compromised, said Ulzheimer.
“It’s not that hard for a fraudster to get ahold of your info,” said Ulzheimer. “You know the guy in your neighborhood who has the sign on his lawn that his house is protected by a security company, or that guy with the sticker on his truck that says ‘insured by Smith and Wesson?'” By taking these steps, he said, “you’re just making yourself a little less attractive than the guy who lives next to you. But if someone wants to get your information, it’s not that hard to get it.”
While that concept might seem terrifying, you could also choose to see it as reassuring — as former con man and current FBI fraud expert told AARP in 2016, chances are that your identity has already been stolen. The important thing is to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself now and in the future, and, above all, not to freak out.