There's a major data breach you need to know about right now and your financial information, including your Social Security number, driver's license number, and credit card data may now be in the hands of cybercriminals.
This could very well be the largest credit data breach in history and it affects almost half of the entire U.S. population.
Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, has revealed that an estimated 143 million U.S. customers may be affected by a data breach carried out by criminal hackers.
Note: Keep reading and we'll tell you how to tell if your private information was affected.
Data breach at Equifax
The company detected the attack on July 29 and the unauthorized access may have occurred from mid-May through July 2017. The cybercriminals allegedly exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access.
The amount of personal information stolen is staggering. It includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even driver's license numbers.
Additionally, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers and dispute documents with personal information for around 182,000 consumers may have been accessed.
The company also identified unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain U.K. and Canadian residents.
Fortunately, there is no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax's core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.
After discovering the data breach, Equifax stated that they acted immediately to stop the intrusion and launched a forensic review and investigation.
Here's an official statement from Equifax's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Richard F. Smith.
"This is clearly a disappointing event for our company and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes.
"We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations. We also are focused on consumer protection and have developed a comprehensive portfolio of services to support all U.S. consumers, regardless of whether they were impacted by this incident."
In related news, word of the massive data breach caused Equifax shares to plunge by more than 5 percent in after-hours trading.
How to check if you're affected
Equifax said that it is now sending out direct mail alerts to customers whose information was included in the data breach. So keep an eye out for this mail notice in your mailbox.
The company also opened a dedicated website, https://trustedidpremier.com/eligibility/eligibility.html, to help consumers check if any of their information has been affected. It also provides links for free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring.
You can also call Equifax's dedicated customer care number 866-447-7559 to check but judging by the magnitude of the breach, long wait times are expected.
Should you trust Equifax's tool?
OK, now that Equifax has this tool you can access to check if you are affected by the data breach, is it a good idea to use it?
First, the tool requires you to provide your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number to initiate the check.
The tool is located here: https://trustedidpremier.com/eligibility/eligibility.html.
With that said, along with signing up for Equifax's free monitoring service, it's probably best to put a credit freeze on your accounts. It is one essential step you must take to stop criminals from opening credit card accounts under your name.
Critical steps to take after a data breach:
In the aftermath of data breaches, victims need to be on the lookout for even more problems. Scammers use the information they've stolen to target you with other scams. If your data was compromised, please take extra caution and watch out for the following schemes:
Keep an eye on your bank accounts - You should already be frequently checking your bank statements, looking for suspicious activity. It's even more critical when credit card data has been exposed through a data breach. If you see anything that seems strange, report it immediately.
Beware of phishing scams - Scammers will try and piggyback on data breaches like this. They will create phishing emails, pretending to be from the affected company, hoping to get victims to click on malicious links that could lead to more problems. Take our phishing IQ test to see if you can spot a fake email.