Data hack affects 143 million consumers

By Tess Beinhaur

On Sept. 7, Equifax announced a data breach impacting approximately 143 million U.S. consumers. This means that information including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, and driver’s license numbers has been compromised.

“Essentially, anyone that was affected has a risk of their identity being stolen for the rest of their lives,” said Erik Lightbody, assistant director of technology services at St. Michael’s College. “All that information is out on the internet,” continued Lightbody, warning that if you are a victim of a data breach or identity theft, don’t forget about it in six months.

Despite interim CEO of Equifax Paulino Rego Barros Jr.’s promise to “quickly and forcefully” correct Equifax’s mistakes, Lightbody put it shortly: “They screwed up and there’s no recourse for it. It is going to be a problem for the rest of everybody’s lives.”

When identity thieves get your information, they don’t go out right away and buy a car or a house. “They’re going to sit on it and wait three to five years,” Lightbody said. “When the dust has settled and everybody’s forgotten about this, then they’re going to go out and start [using your information].”

John Payne, director of library and information services, has been a victim of identity theft three separate times over the span of 10 years. Payne said that presumably, both his and his wife’s social security numbers are just “floating around.”

“Part of life in the 21st century is people will steal this information,” said Payne. “You can’t un-steal your social security number.”

Payne described making modest changes to his life after the identity thefts, like reviewing his purchases monthly and checking for unusual transactions. His motto is that he can’t live in fear and paranoia.

“It makes sense to take reasonable precautions, but I don’t want to be worrying about what criminals will do with my information,” said Payne.

Because he was aware of identity theft, after the Equifax breach he used, a service provided by Equifax itself, to check if his and his wife’s information was at risk. Though his information was secure, his wife’s had been compromised.

“We’re not doing anything differently this time,” said Payne about the Equifax data breach. “It has happened before and it may well happen again.”

Lightbody said that the worst part about the data breach is the consumer had no control over the matter. “You never signed a contract with Equifax to let them [have your information]. It’s just a private industry that the government contracts with. It was the third party [Equifax] that had this information; it was the third party that was hacked.”

Even if you aren’t a victim of the Equifax breach, at St. Michael’s College, students have been spammed with phishing emails. Lightbody said this is the easiest way for students’ identities to be stolen. He explained that the best way to keep your accounts and information secure is to use different passwords on all your accounts.

“I have very elaborate passwords for each of my accounts,” said Nolan Moon, ’20, to keep his information safe.

Moon said if he was the a victim of identity theft, “I wouldn’t know where to start. I’d be very freaked out.”

Lightbody suggested students should start monitoring their credit. If your identity is stolen, “keep an eye on your credit all the time because people are going to use it.” He suggested Credit Karma. It’s a free service to monitor your credit score. Monitoring your credit after an identity theft ensures that your credit is accurate and that there is no fraudulent activity. There is a premium option available also that provides access to more features.

Today at 3:15 p.m., Lightbody is hosting a workshop about data security in St. Edmund’s 215. The workshop will teach students how they can protect themselves online from identity theft.