Update [09/19/17] - Equifax Canada has now reported that roughly 100,000 Canadians were affected by the cybersecurity attack that occurred earlier this year. The firm says it will be sending notices via mail to those impacted, and will provide them with complimentary credit monitoring and identity theft protection for 12 months.
Late last week, credit reporting agency Equifax reported it had suffered a major data breach that affects more than 143 million consumers in the United States. Between May and July this year, Equifax claims hackers were able to gain access to key consumer details such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver's licence numbers, credit card numbers and other personal information.
While most of those affected are located in the U.S., the Atlanta-based credit bureau says hackers may have accessed "limited personal information" from Canadian consumers, as well as those in the United Kingdom.
On its Canadian website, Equifax says the breach has been contained since it was discovered on July 29, but it is still investigating exactly how many Canadians were affected. At this point in time, the company acknowledges that personal information including names, addresses and social insurance numbers may have been compromised.
Regardless of how many people are affected, however, every Canadian can take proactive steps to make sure their information is safe going forward.
Tips to protect your personal data
Review your accounts
Log in to your online banking accounts and track your activity back to at least May 2017. If you notice irregular activity, let your credit card company or financial institution know immediately. Also, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre – this government body can guide you best on how to deal with suspicious activity on your account.
Change your passwords
This is the best time to change the passwords on all your financial accounts, including your online credit card and bank accounts. If you have a “My Account” with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that gives you access to all your detailed tax return information, change that password as well. Avoid using previously-used passwords, and make your new passwords difficult to guess. In your new password, include an upper case letter, a number and a special symbol.
Check your credit report
Ask for a copy of your credit report – you can typically get one mailed to you for free every 12 months, or you can gain access to it instantly online for a small fee. See if there’s any suspicious transactions on your credit report. Check for any credit cards in your name that you didn’t apply for, or credit checks that were performed when you never asked for one.
You can also ask Equifax or TransUnion (the other major credit reporting agency) to put a credit alert on your file. This means any request for a new credit product or a change cannot proceed until the potential credit grantor checks with the consumer who owns the credit file account.
Protect your information, even if you weren’t affected
Scammers are always looking for new ways to get their hands on your information. The Competition Bureau of Canada even publishes The Little Book of Scams every year, which details the most up-to-date tactics fraudsters use to fool consumers.
Even if you believe you were not affected by the breach, you should always take caution when handling your personal information. This includes shredding all sensitive documents before putting them in the trash, and not giving your information to anyone via the phone or internet without ensuring the line or site is secure first.
Fraud comes in many ways, shapes and forms, and you can easily become a victim in the future if you don’t take the proper precautions.