If you haven’t heard of the Equifax consumer data breach then you’re either uninformed or you just don’t care. Regardless, this breach of personal and private information should make you very concerned. If not for your own personal data, then for our economy. The Equifax breach was a massive data heist that included names, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases driver’s license numbers.
Besides causing personal harm, this data breach has the potential to wreak widespread economic havoc. It was reported that the hack could impact up to 143 million consumers (almost half the country’s population is at risk). If only 1 percent of the 143 million are not able to buy a home as a result of this data breach because of identification fraud or other credit report problems, that would be about 1,430,000 fewer homes sold, which is about 26 percent of all the existing homes sold in the US last year. To put it in perspective, there was only a 20 percent drop in existing home sales from market peak (2006) to trough (2009) triggering the worst housing market since the Great Depression and wiping out much of the country’s real estate wealth.
Let’s be clear, this is not a wake-up call.
The wake-up call came years ago when consumer data breaches and hacking first got the attention of the public and government. Since, the snooze alarm has continually been reset. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (privacyrights.org), since 2005 there have been 7,671 data breaches totaling to 1,070,164,636 records breached. The clearinghouse only counts the data breaches that “have a high chance of exposing individuals to identity theft.”
One of the first consumer data breaches to draw government ire and fines was the Choicepoint breach in 2005. The 145,000 consumers affected by that breach pales in comparison to the Equifax consumer data breach. Choicepoint was fined $10million by the FTC as well as having to provide $5million for consumer redress.
Since Equifax’s public announcement of the consumer data breach, Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has called for hearings. Of course, hearings take time and are a knee jerk reaction to the damage that has already been done. But the hearings will address the many questions surrounding this incident, such as: how the hack occurred; why it allegedly took Equifax two months to reveal the hack; and why were Equifax executives allegedly allowed to sell company stock before the data breach announcement?
And because of the potential financial and economic impact of hacking and consumer data breaches, the questions that should also be asked include: Why hasn’t government taken steps to protect such information prior this data breach? How will government protect consumers moving forward?
Are consumer data breaches becoming acceptable?
Equifax’s incident is not the first of its kind, and unfortunately, nor will it be the last. But it is the largest breach of private and personal information to date. This incident should make you wonder if the stewards of our private and personal information, along with the government agencies and bureaus, are incapable of or not totally invested in protecting the consumer.
Equifax has set up a site to check if you’re affected by this data breach, however many have demonstrated that it does not work properly. It may be best to assume you’re at risk and take necessary actions to protect yourself. The Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do), the CFPB (www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/identity-theft-protection-following-equifax-data-breach) offer tips in protecting your personal and private data.
Copyright© Dan Krell
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.