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‘A scam on top of a scam?’: Equifax letters spark concern among victims

Equifax has begun notifying the 700,000 Brits affected by its data breach

UK victims of May’s Equifax data breach have been left confused and panicked by a letter from the firm which says their personal information has been compromised – but doesn’t say what Equifax is or why it holds their data.

Which? has heard from dozens of people who received the letter and were confused by it – with some fearing it to be a scam – because they have never heard of or directly dealt with Equifax before.

Equifax has now confirmed that only 27,000 of the nearly 700,000 people it has written to were its direct customers – and the rest may previously have had no inkling they were affected by the breach.

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Equifax data breach: 15.2m Brits affected

In May this year, Equifax announced its data had been access by hackers in a cyber-attack. Some 15.2 million UK client records were compromised and more than 690,000 UK consumers are likely to have had sensitive details stolen.

These include email addresses, passwords, driving license numbers, phone numbers and partial credit card details.

Equifax is now writing to those worst-affected UK individuals to offer a choice of free ID-monitoring services.

Why does Equifax hold data for non-customers?

Equifax has confirmed that just 3% of the worst-hit victims were its direct customers.

How is this possible? As a credit reference agency, Equifax receives personal data from banks and financial institutions whenever someone applies for a bank account, mortgage or credit card. Consent for this is usually included in the application terms and conditions.

This means Equifax may hold data on you even if you’ve never dealt with it directly. Others will have transacted with Equifax by purchasing a credit report or identity monitoring services from it.

Victims express confusion, fear of further scams

Which? has seen evidence the letters are causing widespread confusion among the victims. One person who’d had their name, date of birth and telephone number compromised emailed us:

As far as I am aware I have never used this organisation, they now advise me to use their “free” services to help protect myself. If they are so incompetent in the first place to have been the subject of a cyberattack why should I trust any of the services they recommend.

Is this a scam on top of a scam?

Another Tweeted: ‘I have one of these letters today and i have never used anything like it. Why have they got my data?’

And a third said: “Just had letter from @Equifax informing me my personal data has been accessed since May 2017. Is this a scam? Taken long time to tell me!”

In addition, the Which? Money helpline has fielded more than 25 calls so far this week from people concerned by the letter.

Technical expert and Trading Standards ‘Scambassador’ Scott McGready took to Twitter to blast the way Equifax has handled informing the public, branding it ‘Like herding cats,’ and insisting that ‘more needs to be done’.

Which? asked Equifax to comment on the apparent confusion its letter had caused, but it declined to do so.

Read the letter from Equifax below (Personal details have been removed)

How to verify your letter?

If you receive a letter regarding the Equifax data breach, and you’re not sure if it’s genuine, look up Equifax’s number independently via a search engine or directory enquiries. Then give them a call to confirm the letter is genuinely from them.

Should I accept the free identity monitoring services?

If your data has been breached, you may be at heightened risk of identity fraud. To combat this, Equifax is offering its worst-affected UK customers free services which monitor how your identity is being used online – some of them run by Equifax itself, and one run by anti-fraud body Cifas.

If you are concerned about the security of Equifax’s own products, you can opt to be enrolled in Cifas’s Protective Registration scheme – however you will still have to give some personal information to Equifax so it can enrol you for free.

It is possible to enrol directly through Cifas, though this will attract a £20 charge (for two years’ cover).

Which? tips for surviving a data breach

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a data breach, take the following steps to protect yourself:

  • Contact your mortgage, current account and credit card providers to make them aware of the potential breach.
  • Change your passwords on any online accounts holding sensitive information.
  • Check your credit card statements and credit reports for unusual or unauthorised activity. Report any discrepancies to the provider immediately.
  • Apply for protective registration from CIFAS – the Fraud Prevention Service. This will trigger additional checks any time someone tries to open a financial product in your name.
  • Be extra-vigilant against phishing messages.
  • Our consumer rights guide explains how to spot a scam message.
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