143 million Americans have had their complete credit information exposed to thieves. This is not a nuisance hack, like someone can login to your Tahoo email and read all your points cards offers. Until you change your password and then it’s all status quo.
Nope. This is a great enflickerment of the financial system. And there can be no recovery. The nature of the data that was compromised was too sensitive. The only solution what could possibly make whole of that which has been made wrong is for the US Government to issue every citizen a new Social Security Number (SSN). And that is not going to happen. Nor do you want it to.
If you’ve ever changed banks, and then tried to update your direct deposit info with the butcher, the tailor and the maker of candlesticks, then you will comprehend this thought experiment. Imagine updating your SSN with every business you’ve ever done business with. And every government department. And every lender. Just think of it- going to everyone who holds your bona fides, and saying “Oh yeah I’m still Alan Fox 001 002 003. Except now I’m 123 456 789.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
So there will be no government bailout of your actual identity. You will still be you – 001 002 033. And you will be struggling with 1634 million other Americans to continue a fiscal life post-Equifax. Only now the bad man has everything they need to impersonate you every time they need a spare thousand bucks. And there ain’t gonna be anything you can do about it, sucker.
Equifax is going to bring such national ill health to us that the only metaphor that captures the nature of the damage ahead is that of the smallpox epidemics of the 18th century. Not only does everyone have the disease – it will ravage us all. We will all bear the scars. And I mean this quite literally, that our credit will be bruised and marked up. And those that have the smallest pox – the least damaged credit – will be the most socially desirable.
For what has been unleashed into the international network of thieves, hackers, Nigera 419 crooks, American organized crime, Russian mobsters, Yakuza – you name it – now has the ability to impersonate 134 million Americans at any time, in any way they choose.
So what does that mean for me? Well, as a Canadian, not much. It was a US hack, and there’s been no report of an equivalent hack in Canada. So here’s what to do next…
Think of this as a civil defense drill of the 1960s. This is a test. Only a test. Had this been a real pan-North-American cyberhack, the bank would already have sold your house from under you.
Wake-up call, Part One:
Change your passwords. Really, it’s so simple, and so effective, and the fact you don’t do it with on a regular basis shows that you have a belief in magical thinking. Yes, I am aware that it is challenging to come up with a set of universal passwords that can be changed a porter. But eternal vigilance is the price of being on the WWW.
Turn on you credit card alerts. This is so obvious that I believe Gail Vaz-Oxlade has a line of T-shirts promoting it. But seriously- turn on the alerts, and then every time the card is used, you will be informed. A great step one.
Wake-up call, Part Two:
Decline any offered increase in your available credit. If the thieves have got ahold of your balance don’t increase it until you know you’re safe.
Hint- you’ll never be safe again.
Change your pins. Your bank accounts. Your credit cards. And you can’t be bothered to change your PIN more than once every few YEARS?!
Deal with the things that go “Bump” on your financial report:
The magnitude of the Equifax hack means that those exposed could potentially be victimized by some of the gnarlier forms of fraudulent impersonation:
· The thieves will mortgage your house
· The thieves will apply for credit cards until they have sucked your credit bureau dry
What a credit bureau report will reveal:
The telling signs:
· The thieves will change your address at your financial institutions. They will then bleed you dry.
· The thieves will have mortgaged your property. And your equity is gone. Due to a quirk of banking laws in Canada, if a thief takes out a mortgage on your house, the house must pay back the mortgage. The fact the thief will have counterfeited your signature gives you proof and cause to sue the thief. To the bank, the money is still owed by the property. If that means foreclosing on you, then that’s what will happen.
Side note: Title insurance protects against this, but only during purchase and sale.
The Equifax top three protections for Canadians:
For Canadians, the top Equifax protections are:
· Turn on credit card alerts
· Get your free credit scores from Equifax, TransUnion, and the other one
What about credit freezes?
· Not yet