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Equifax hack leads to consumer questions


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A credit counseling agency covering 25 counties in two states has been busy the past few days advising people who are worried about what the Equifax data security breach might cost them.

Its response: Check your credit report often, as some hackers now have access to volumes of people’s sensitive personal information.

That’s the same advice given by the CEO of a credit union in Charleston. Constant vigilance is the key, he said.

“The insidious thing about this data breach is the effects may not show up for months or a year,” said Dan McGowan, CEO of Pioneer West Virginia Federal Credit Union.

On Sept. 7, Equifax reported hackers exploited a website application vulnerability and gained access to files potentially impacting 143 million consumers nationwide. Equifax said 730,119 of those affected reside in West Virginia.

Equifax is one of three major credit bureau monitoring agencies.

A credit reporting agency keeps information including Social Security numbers, birthdays, employment history, driver’s license numbers, security questions and just about anything a person would need to commit identity theft and open an account or take out a loan in another person’s name.

Such hacks are almost commonplace in the retail industry. This is the first large-scale hack involving a credit reporting service.

“This hack has the potential to impact people far deeper than any retail store hack,” said John Jackson, executive director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Mid-Ohio Valley in Parkersburg.

Jackson said his service covers 13 counties in Southeastern Ohio and 12 in North Central West Virginia. It has received a number of calls from clients asking what they should do in light of the Equifax hack, he said.

“Right now, we’re telling people to put a fraud alert on your credit report,” Jackson said. “It’s free. If you place the fraud alert with one credit bureau, it automatically goes to the other two.”

With a fraud alert, a lender will ask a potential borrower for additional identification before making a loan, Jackson said. It is simpler than a freeze on a credit report, he said. A freeze allows consumers to restrict access to their credit reports, and it usually comes with a fee. If the consumer applies for a loan and the lender needs to see the report, the consumer can thaw the report, but that also can carry a fee.

Also, a freeze requires a consumer to use a personal identification number, which is something many people forget, Jackson said.

The best defense against identity theft may be a low credit score and a minuscule bank balance, Jackson said. But people who aim higher than that should monitor their credit reports often, he said.

Consumers may request a free copy of a credit report at

“Make sure there aren’t applications for credit that you’re not familiar with,” he said.

McGowan said consumer anxiety is up since news of the hack came out, but lending activity at the credit union has not decreased.

“We’ve had a number of our members call asking what they can do,” he said.

McGowan said consumers should check their bank statements and their credit reports often.

“This may be sort of good, that it creates concern among the general public that they look closer at statements for all parties they do business with,” which is what consumers should do anyway, he said.

It is not known exactly how many West Virginians’ sensitive personal financial information was compromised by the Equifax data breach, but Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says his office continues to monitor the situation.

“Nearly half of our state’s population could be at risk from the Equifax breach,” Morrisey said Monday.

“Every West Virginia consumer must be aware of this incident and take the necessary steps to protect their finances. My office has received numerous calls from consumers asking how they can better protect their information. Our Consumer Protection Division is encouraging everyone to monitor their bank accounts and credit reports. My office is also working to educate the public on identity theft issues and will provide additional information about the breach as it becomes available.”

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