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Credit agency breach affects 143 million Americans

By Paula Walter

This past week, Equifax, one of three credit reporting agencies, recently announced hackers were able to obtain personal information, including names, social security numbers and other identifying information, from an estimated 143 million Americans. This amounts to approximately half the population of the United States. In this recent breech, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 people and documents containing personal identifying information for an estimated 182,000 were also stolen.
Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are the three credit reporting agencies in the United States. These companies gather information on individuals that are used to determine credit scores for millions of people across the country. Information is obtained from names, addresses, social security numbers, date of birth, driver’s license and even credit card information.
With this breach of personal information, anyone who has ever applied for credit or had credit could be affected. Farmers State Bank has posted information on their website to assist you in the event your personal information has been obtained in this latest hack. They offer suggestions to help protect yourself and your credit, including enrolling in Equifax service. Due to the breech, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for one year, regardless if your personal information was compromised or not.
“Keep an eye on your bank account regularly to check for fraudulent transactions,” said Clifford Mahala, Vice President and Security Officer for Farmers State Bank. Pull up your credit reports from all three agencies, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to access a free credit report from each credit monitoring company once a year. “Monitor credit reports, banking accounts and watch out for scams related to the breech,” Mahala stated. “Don’t click on any links from emails, but go directly to the browser. Online banking and mobile banking are beneficial because it gives you the opportunity to look at your accounts anytime.”
Johnson County Bank’s online home page offers contact information should you be a victim of identity theft or fraud, or lost or stolen credit cards. Contact numbers for Johnson County Bank can be found in case of a stolen or lost debit card, along with phone numbers for the bank, Social Security Administration, as well as Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. To help in the fight against identity theft, when you open an account at Johnson County Bank, you will be asked for your phone number, address, date of birth and other identifying information. You may also be asked to produce your driver’s license or other identifying documents.
Brad Reece, Executive Vice President at Johnson County Bank, also stresses the importance of reviewing account activity on statements your financial institutions send you. “If something looks wrong, don’t hesitate to question it,” said Reece. “Additionally, many customers use on-line banking tools to manage accounts. If transactions have occurred that appear suspicious, customers can take action considerably earlier than waiting to notice it on a statement in an effort to prevent future losses.”
Those who steal identity information use the information they have to access your credit cards and your personal information. They may open credit cards and other accounts in your name, pretending to be you. This may be something you are unaware of until you are contacted by a company regarding a late payment or you notice charges on a credit card bill. Make sure to check your credit reports for any discrepancies, such as credit cards you didn’t apply for, or the wrong information on your credit report, missing money from your bank or inquires from companies you have never heard of contacting you regarding your credit. “The idea of identity theft is a scary thought,” said Reece. “Criminals take advantage of every angle they can to illegally benefit from others in society, and the recent issue at Equifax unfortunately will undoubtedly aid them in these unethical endeavors. The Federal Trade Commission has some excellent suggestions for those who are looking to take actions to safeguard their information and are concerned with the potential that it may have been compromised.”
Placing a security freeze on your credit report should prevent any new accounts being opened in your name. If you decide to go this route, you need to contact each of the credit reporting agencies. Creditors will not be able to offer any new credit, keeping identify thieves from opening false accounts in your name. If you decide to apply for new credit, you would have to contact all three companies to lift the freeze.
Additionally, a fraud alert could be placed on your accounts, requiring all creditors to check your identity before opening up any new credit cards or even increasing your credit limits. If you place a fraud alert with any of the credit reporting agencies, they are required to notify the other two credit agencies. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days, but can be renewed. An extended alert is also available for victims of identity theft for a period of seven years. This differs from the initial fraud alert in that creditor must contact you to determine that you indeed are making the request.
To see if your personal information has been compromised, go to Farmers State Bank website, and click the banner at the top of the page. At the bottom of the page is a link where you can obtain information directly from Equifax as to whether your personal credit information has been compromised. There are also links that will take you to the Federal Trade Commission’s web page, as well as information on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.