It’s been a little over a month since news of the Equifax Breach first broke, and the incident is turning out to be the quite the gift to fraudsters. From gaffes made by Equifax and other credit bureausto the fact that the data breach was more extensive than initially thought, everything surrounding this incident has made it difficult for victims to quickly and thoroughly secure their information. While a credit freeze will protect your credit reports, it will not protect you from the other side effect of data breaches — scams. As time goes on, consumers should prepare themselves for the onslaught of opportunists who will use any leaked information and circumstances surrounding the Equifax breach to their advantage. Keep reading below as we detail the types of scams you should be watching out for in the near future.
How exactly does the Equifax breach benefit scammers?
Unfortunately for consumers, this breach will likely prove to be the gift that keeps on giving to identity thieves. That’s because this breach not only provides criminals with lots of personal information — most of which is probably now available on the dark web — but it also provides the perfect context for making fake phone calls and phishing emails. Essentially, scammers now have two solid choices for perpetuating schemes: they can either steal your information if it was captured in the breach, or they can use the details surrounding the incident to convincingly pull off social engineering scams. For example, scammers could pretend to be someone from Equifax who’s offering some form of assistance navigating the personal and financial fallout of the breach. How scammers target you will depend on what they want, but you should be prepared for any potential scam, given the size and scope of the Equifax breach.
What types of scams should I look out for?
Given that every week we seem to learn something new about the breach, the possibilities are potentially endless with regard to what exactly scammers might try to pull off. That said, based off of what we currently know, here are some of the more likely scams you can expect in the coming months and perhaps even years:
Scams offering assistance in dealing with the breach
The FTC and other organizations have already begun reporting on an emerging scam which involves fraudsters calling up consumers under the guise of being Equifax representatives. In the most common version of the scam, fraudsters ask for their victims to “verify” account information with their full name, social security number, home address, date of birth, etc. This type of scam has also expanded to phishing emails, though it could conceivably even spread to snail mail. It’s also possible that scammers could pose as attorneys and credit repair services to offer you legal and financial assistance.
To protect yourself from these threats, you should under no circumstances provide personal information to someone who contacts you and claims they’re offering any sort of assistance, as they are likely scammers. If you’ve personally vetted the owner of the phone number or email address and can confirm they’re legitimate, you can provide the information. For example, providing your credit card number over the phone to Experian (through the phone number listed on its site) is not the same as giving your credit card details to someone calling from a random number claiming that they’re affiliated with Experian. In one scenario, you’ve done the work needed to verify the identity of the party on the other side of the phone, so if your credit card is misused, you have some form of recourse. Essentially, there is no reason for you to respond to unsolicited messages or calls that purportedly come from organizations you may or may not be familiar with. If you feel compelled to respond, do not respond to the email or over the phone; instead, go to the service’s website (do not click on any links in emails or text messages) and contact them directly to get more information. The odds of a company or credit bureau legitimately reaching out to you randomly over the phone or via email without first notifying you are fairly low, especially now that we live in an era where organizations and businesses know these types of scams are common.
Scams promising compensation (especially from Equifax)
Someday down the line you might get a call (or email) from an Equifax representative or attorney who informs you that you’re entitled to compensation as a result of the breach. Should you believe them? Probably not. Although it sounds cynical, most experts suspect that Equifax won’t face punishment for the breach. This means there’s no reason to expect Equifax to offer any compensation beyond what it has already offered in the form of free identity monitoring and a temporary fee waive for credit freezes.
One of the few exceptions might perhaps come in the form of a successful class-action lawsuit. Although the possibility of such a lawsuit isn’t off the table, even then, you shouldn’t expect to be contacted out of the blue for a payout (assuming there is one), and if you are, follow our tips at the bottom of this post to confirm the legitimacy. Generally, you should take anyone claiming that you can receive compensation for this breach with the finest grain of salt possible, especially if they’re asking for your personal information over the phone or through a link in an email.
Scams involving your lender/creditor
With the information taken in the Equifax breach and previous breaches, it might be possible for scammers to learn of the companies and lenders you have open accounts or relationships with. From there, they can pretend to be a representative from one of these companies in an attempt to gather your personal information either over the phone or through email. As with the other scams, if you receive unsolicited contact from your creditor or lender asking for personal information, do not click on any links or provide any information. Instead, contact the creditor or lender directly using the legitimate phone number or website to avoid being phished or scammed.
IRS and tax scams
The big worry for many is that the treasure trove of information contained in the Equifax breach will inevitably lead to tax identity theft for years to come. While there will likely be many different types of scams deployed by fraudsters and hackers, you should predominately be on the lookout for scam calls or emails from “the IRS.” Remember that the IRS itself won’t contact you by phone or email, though debt collectors may call on behalf of the IRS for back-owed taxes. In addition, you should aim to file your taxes as early as possible to prevent someone from claiming your tax refund (or a phony refund) on your behalf.
Keep in mind, this list of scams is not conclusive, as hackers and other types of fraudsters might choose to go after the information that’s already available to sell it or to acquire credit or government benefits in your name. For more information about scams and how to protect yourself from them, read our scams blog. And to keep an eye on the latest details regarding Equifax, follow our Equifax breach blog.