Earlier this spring, Equifax, one of North America’s largest credit bureaus, was prey to the of the most serious cyber security breaches ever. On Tuesday, the company revealed that the personal information of about 100,000 Canadians may have been stolen.
Equifax is still working to get all the answers, but the news so far has millions of people checking their financial statements and credit reports to ensure their data is safe. This may not be the first or even the largest incident in which a major database has been hacked, but it’s the first time such sensitive data has been stolen on such a massive scale.
To make the matter worse, communication from Equifax has been lacking. The company is facing criticism over choosing to keep the hack under wraps for more than a month after it was discovered, and a lot of people still have no idea whether they’ve been affected or not. So hopefully we can help clear things up for you.
What exactly is going on?
On Sept. 8, Equifax informed the public that there had been unauthorized access of the information belonging to approximately 143 million of the U.S. citizens in its database. The company also said data belonging to an undisclosed number of citizens of the U.K. and Canada were also stolen. We now know that in Canada that number is roughly 100,000.
Despite being on the smaller scale of global data breaches, the most alarming aspect of this hack is the information the hackers accessed is some of the most sensitive and valuable information people have. Names, social insurance numbers, birthdates, addresses, and even some credit card numbers were compromised.
According to the company, its security was breached as early as May 2017. The breach, however, was discovered on July 29. The company claims that the announcement was delayed to allow it enough time to get answers for consumers.
What you need to do.
The first step is to review everything.
Carefully look over all of your credit card statements, as well as your credit report, to make sure that all the activity on it belongs to you. To make this process easier, Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to all impacted Canadians.
Equifax is reaching out directly to affected consumers as well as to VISA and MasterCard, who will in turn inform financial institutions who can then aso communicate with their customers.
Should you find any unauthorized activity on your account Equifax encourages consumers to inform their financial institutions as soon as possible. Consumers who have not been contacted, but are concerned about the breach can get in touch with Equifax Canada at 1-866-828-5961 or EquifaxCanadaInquiry@Equifax.com.
There isn’t much else anyone can do if their name, SIN, or address are stolen, because those are all things that tend not to change very often. Should you receive confirmation that your SIN number was stolen, you can report it compromised to the police. However, the government doesn’t issue new SINs unless there is proof someone actually has used it fraudulently.
You may apply for a new confirmation of SIN document to keep proof of your SIN, but the number itself will not change, meaning you’ll likely want to keep a close eye on your credit activity from now on or take an extra step in securing your credit by putting a freeze on it.
A credit freeze will help protect you from your information being used to open new accounts without your consent. It limits who can see your credit report to your existing creditors as well as debt collectors. However, once your credit is frozen you won’t be able to open any new lines of credit without paying a fee.
The biggest step you need to take in the coming weeks is pay careful attention to your financial accounts. Until we have a full understanding of whose data was compromised, assume you’re among the 100,000 Canadians and take steps to protect yourself.