Getting up to speed on the Equifax data breach scandal

This July 21, 2012, file photo shows Equifax Inc. offices in Atlanta. On Monday, Equifax said it has made changes to address customer complaints since it disclosed a week earlier that it exposed vital data on about 143 million Americans. Equifax has come under fire from members of Congress, state attorneys general and people who are getting conflicting answers about whether their information was stolen. Equifax is trying again to clarify language about people’s right to sue, and said Monday it has made changes to address customer complaints. 

Mike Stewart, AP photo

In the wake of last week’s announcement by Equifax that personal information of more than 143 million Americans may have been stolen by hackers, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem urges North Dakotans to take immediate steps to protect against identity theft.

“I have learned from Equifax that more than 248,000 North Dakotans may have been affected,” Stenehjem said, including his own family.

Basically anyone who has ever taken out a loan, mortgage, rented an apartment or even bought a cell phone could be at risk, Stenehjem said.

"That's why this breach is so concerning," he said, and the information stolen could be at risk for years.

Customer information that was potentially stolen includes names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses and, in some cases, credit card numbers.

“North Dakotans who are concerned that the security breach at Equifax may have exposed their personal information should take immediate steps to protect against identify theft by placing a fraud alert on their credit reports,” Stenehjem said.

A fraud alert is effective for 90 days and alerts legitimate creditors and service providers to the potential unauthorized use of a consumer’s information. The Attorney General’s website has information on how to file a fraud alert, at https://attorneygeneral.nd.gov/.

Stenehjem suggests consumers check Equifax’s website, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/, to determine if they are affected, and to do so from a secure computer because of the risks associated with providing the last six digits of a Social Security number, which is required to determine if a person’s credit file has been jeopardized. Or call the Equifax call center at 866-447-7559.

Stenehjem also emphasized that placing a security freeze on an individual’s credit file may prevent anyone else from opening fraudulent new accounts. It does not affect the individual’s credit score and can be temporarily “lifted” by the consumer, if necessary. More detailed information on how to place a security freeze is available on the attorney general’s website, at https://attorneygeneral.nd.gov/consumer-resources/identity-theft/credit-security-freeze.

“As my office reviews this massive data breach, we need to determine what steps Equifax could have taken to prevent this data breach and what actions will be needed to prevent a re-occurrence in the future," Stenehjem said. “I will insist that the relief Equifax provides be commensurate with the harm it caused, and that it take extraordinary measures to make consumers whole.”

Stenehjem says he is reserving final judgment but noted that an offer for one year of free credit monitoring is not sufficient considering that the theft of someone’s Social Security number and other personal information may become a dormant threat with adverse results years in the future.

“It is Equifax’s sole responsibility to protect the personal information it compiled and to prevent the unauthorized use of such information,” Stenehjem said.

Parrell Grossman, director of the Consumer Protection Division, reminded North Dakota residents that they are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies.

“Checking your credit report regularly will help you to spot, and stop, identity theft quickly,” Grossman said. Information on how to obtain the free credit report is at https://attorneygeneral.nd.gov/consumer-resources/consumer-rights.

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