The best response to the Equifax breach: Don't deal with Equifax
Equifax claims to be offering its "customers" (you're their product, remember) free scans to determine whether you're one of the company's 143 million victims. That's like inviting the guy who just stole your wallet to help himself to your home appliances.
Who gave Equifax permission to create and use a dossier of our personal information? They didn't ask for permission. They didn't have to. Equifax claims we gave the companies that directly scooped up our information permission to share it with whomsoever they choose. Equifax and innumerable other third parties pay those scoopers a lot of money for our personal information. The company and its ilk make a tidy profit, too.
What a racket these guys are running! They're not picking one of our pockets, they're picking all of them -- and claiming a legal right to do so, too.
Everybody's profiting from our personal information except us. We're the victim in lots of ways. We pay the price for these companies' inability to keep our private information out of the hands of criminals. We pay the price when the corporations that are the alleged victims of data breaches simply pass along the costs to customers, or find other ways to make up for the loss without hurting profits -- or executive salaries.
By the way, those so-called free services that vacuum up everything we do, think about doing, and soon will be doing are anything but free. Who paid for the device you're using? Who pays a monthly fee (or two or three) to access the "free" internet? Who asked for all this tracking? Who benefits from an ad-driven internet, and who doesn't? Platforms win, people lose.
The appropriate response to the Equifax breach: Get a free report, pay for monitoring
At this point, why in the world would you go to Equifax for anything? Stay a million miles away from the company. ZDNet's Zack Whittaker reports in a September 12, 2017, article that the site Equifax set up to monitor credit accounts is vulnerable to hackers. Whittaker cites work done by security research Martin Hall, who found hackers can "siphon off" the personal information of anyone who visits the site.
Instead of inviting even more damage by looking to Equifax or other data-collecting service for help, do it yourself. The first step is to take a good, long look at an up-to-date version of your credit report. The January 13, 2016, Weekly explains how to get a free copy of your credit report (scroll to "After-the-fact protections" for the information). It also describes credit monitoring services, including the monitoring service I have used for many years, American Express's $15-a-month Credit Secure.
In a September 11, 2017, article on the Equifax breach, security expert Brian Krebs recommends that victims request a freeze on their accounts, which prevents would-be creditors from accessing your "file." A freeze is the best way to block identity thieves from opening new accounts using your name and information. You can temporarily unlock a frozen account if you want a company to access your financial information. The freezes generally last only 90 days max, although they can be extended.
New accounts may not be a breach victim's primary concern, however. CSO's Fahmida Y. Rashid explains in a September 12, 2017, article that hackers are less likely to use the information leaked by Equifax to open new accounts than they are to take over people's existing accounts.
Rashid quotes Gartner analyst Avivah Litan as saying fewer than 5 percent of U.S. consumers will be the victim of a fraudulent new account in their lifetimes, but they are much more likely to have a hacker attempt to take over one of their existing financial accounts. The solution, according to Litan, is for companies to implement "dynamic" identity verification. Techniques such as crowd sourcing and machine learning are being applied to authenticate people based on external identity information -- what others know about you via your behavior and "attributes," not just what you know about yourself.
An expert's advice for navigating the credit-correction maze
The last thing you want to have to do is to contact a credit bureau to request a correction to an error in your credit file. Patrick McKenzie claims as one of his hobbies his experience ghostwriting letters to credit reporting agencies and banks. In a September 9, 2017, post, McKenzie notes that you don't have to do anything just because your data has been breached. The best response is often simply to keep a close eye on your monthly statements and your credit report.
If you find that someone has opened a fraudulent account in your name, McKenzie states up front that you should never pay a bogus bill, and you should never call the credit reporting agency directly because you'll be talking not to support staff but to sales people -- even if they claim to be support staff. The credit bureaus will always do the absolute minimum the law requires, according to McKenzie.
Likewise, never use a credit agency's online form to submit information. McKenzie says to send paper letters and always establish a strong paper trail for all your transactions with the company. (Note that your "paper" trail can be digital versions of correspondences, so long as you take care to protect them via multiple local and offsite backups.) The credit agency will likely send you form letters in response, but you should always maintain a professional demeanor in your correspondence with the agency, stating all pertinent information clearly, concisely, and dispassionately.
McKenzie's other advice includes filing a report with your local police department, and then include a copy of the police report with all letters you send to the bank or credit agency. You can expect a letter back from the company requesting more information. McKenzie suggests that you reiterate your primary claims in your response and insist that the account be closed immediately because you have already provided the company with all the information they need to act. Then "attach" the additional information that was requested as a "professional courtesy."
McKenzie adds that you should never speak with debt collectors. If they call, request their mailing address and then conduct all communications with the company via U.S. mail. If your bank has confirmed that the account in question was never yours, send the debt collector a copy of the notice from the bank stating such. Then state that any subsequent collection activity is illegal, and selling the debt that they now know is illegitimate is also illegal.
The impending cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has created a great deal of confusion. In a September 8, 2017, article, Youth Radio interviews Lisa Weissman, who is a supervising attorney and lecturer at the Stanford Law for Immigrants Rights Clinic. Weissman notes that DACA participants whose work permits are set to expire between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, must file a renewal application prior to October 5, 2017.
It is important for DACA participants to know their constitutional rights: You don't have to open the door to your home when immigration law enforcement knocks unless they have a judicial warrant signed by a judge. Weissman recommends that Dreamers and their supporters continue to organize in defense of the program and to keep pushing for "basic human rights."
So long, Cassini, and thanks for all the science! Cassini wasn't just any spacecraft. As the intrepid explorer prepares for its final plunge into Saturn later this week, the world is paying tribute to a 20-year mission that is among the most successful in NASA's history. In a September 12, 2017, article on Forbes, astrophysicist and author Ethan Siegel presents Cassini's top six discoveries, complete with some amazing Cassini images.
Saturn's rings are obviously the main attraction, and Cassini made many important discoveries about them. The craft also found the huge hexagonal storm raging on Saturn's north pole. The Cassini accomplishment that intrigues me is the discovery of icy seas on Saturn's moon Enceladus. As Siegel puts it, "[t]he presence of water, warmth, and organic molecules all ought to exist on Enceladus, making it one of the most likely candidates for life in our Solar System."
Like Monty Python's Eric Idle sings in The Galaxy Song, "pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, because there's bugger all down here on Earth."