The recent Equifax data breach which affected an estimated 143 million people, basically half the U.S. population, has caused a panic among consumers. Hackers absconded with not only personal data such as birth dates and addresses, but also credit card and driver’s license information as well as the Holy Grail – U.S. Social Security Numbers.
This means that U.S. citizens who are currently living abroad, that have obviously lived and worked in the U.S. at some point, and not only have a U.S.Social Security number, but a U.S. Credit file (although after years of living overseas it often becomes a thin file) could be impacted. This could also include any foreign nationals who work and live in the U.S. have a U.S. Social Security number, and have obtained U.S. credit. The data breach could also include foreign nationals who at some point lived in the U.S. generated a U.S. credit history, but have since returned to their home country. Also, as Equifax is a global company, currently operating in at least 14 countries, there is a risk that consumers in other countries could also be included (It was reported that customers in the United Kingdom and Canada) were also impacted.
If you fall into any of the above categories, and you’re concerned about your personal information and sensitive credit data being compromised you should:
Take advantage of the free identity theft protection and credit monitoring Equifax is offering
Put a fraud/credit alert on your credit report
Get in the habit of obtaining a yearly U.S. credit report from Annual Credit Report
If you have children, contact Equifax, Experian, and Transunion to see if they have a credit report for them, if so, follow the above steps for you children.
Consider replacing your Credit and Debit cards immediately. No need to wait until they expire, just call your credit card issuer and bank and request to have them replaced. Go a step further and immediately change all your pin numbers and passwords or consider using a Password Manager
When possible, make sure you are using two-factor authentication – now considered a must for email, phone, some apps and certain accounts.
Also, if you obtain credit in a foreign country, make sure you have an understanding of the local laws regarding credit. Most countries now have some sort of Credit Bureau, and may use the Equifax breach as a reason to tighten their controls. Check to see if it includes foreign residents. If it does, be clear on the credit rules and regulations (e.g. in some countries if you do not pay your debts, you can go to jail or not be allowed to leave the country) and ensure you stay compliant.
If you intend to repatriate back to the U.S. one day you can’t afford to forget about your U.S. credit history. Stay abreast of any new developments. After the Equifax data breach, there is sure to be some fallout. Make sure you know the key regulators and stay current on any changes in credit laws that could affect you when you return.
Finally, stay vigilant. Cyber thieves like to travel too!