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Yahoo. Target. Equifax. Sonic: All Category 5 data breaches. Is your information safe anymore?

By Michelle Singletary

October 5, 2017 at 7:37 AM

Former Equifax chief executive Richard Smith before he testifies to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We need to accept that our data isn’t ours anymore and hasn’t been for a long time.

We traded our privacy for loans, credit cards, access to medical care or even gym classes.

Every time we give a company our information — Social Security number, address or date of birth — it’s collected and kept in systems we don’t control.

It’s not our fault. We need home loans to buy our houses. We use credit to get big-screen televisions. The gym wants to know that only members are accessing the facilities.

But now all that data and the personal information we willingly volunteer online in our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts is there for the taking to add to hacked information.

Our data is the new dollar easily stolen and turned into profits by criminals.

This week Yahoo said all 3 billion user accounts in 2013 were affected by its massive data breach. Initially, the company had reported 1 billion accounts were hit, as if that weren’t bad enough.

“The revised number vastly expands the scope of the historic hack, which had previously broken records as the world’s largest data breach. The updated figure comes as the public is still reeling from back-to-back reports of data breaches at Equifax and the fast-food chain Sonic,” reported The Washington Post’s Brian Fung.

The Securities and Exchange Commission reported a breach that allowed hackers to make illegal stock trades. Initially, it was thought that the breach didn’t involve personally identifiable information.

This week, the agency revealed that the dates of birth and Social Security numbers and names of two people were compromised.

The SEC said, “that the number of individuals affected may grow,” reported The Post’s Renae Merle.

Read more: SEC initially said 2016 hack did not expose anyone’s personal information. Now it says it was wrong.

LendEDU commissioned a poll to see what consumers felt about the Equifax breach.

Not surprisingly, they were not happy.

Fifty-four percent of respondents think Equifax should lose its ability to act as a credit bureau. People said they wanted to join a class-action lawsuit against the credit bureau (26.5 percent).

And an overwhelming majority (83 percent) said they either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that more rigorous legislation and oversight is needed to protect consumer credit information.

“It is my strong opinion that doing anything online with your personal information is just a security breach waiting to happen,” wrote a reader, who said he was a system administrator for a large bank for 20 years. “You cannot tell me that online activity is secure. The criminals are faster and smarter in more cases than not than the software and security companies are. The digital age is the bane of our society. It makes things easier for sure, not only for us but also for the crooks.”

If you missed the House hearing this week with the former chief executive of Equifax Richard Smith, you have to go back and read what he told lawmakers.

It’s a scary Halloween tale.

Read more: ‘This is a travesty’: Lawmakers grill former Equifax chief executive on breach response

Read The Wall Street Journal’s play-by-play blog coverage of Smith’s​ testimony before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was the start of his apology tour to Congress.

Based on his testimony: Our data is not safe.

So follow the advice from Consumer Federation of America: What Should I Do About the Massive Data Breach at Equifax?

Color of Money question of the week

Have you ever had your information stolen and if so, what was it like clearing up the mess? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line put “Identity Theft” in the subject line. Given the nature of this issue, I’m happy to just include first initial, last name, city and state.

Live chat today

I’m live every Thursday from noon (ET) to 1 p.m. to take your personal finance questions.

Join the discussion or share your financial testimony.

My guest today will be Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

Roper will be available to talk about the Department of Labor fiduciary rule and related developments at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress. She can also answer your questions on why it is important for investors to find a financial adviser who is prepared to put their interests first.

If you are saving for retirement this is one rule you need to know.

A new rule on retirement savings advice is in your best interest

Color of Money columns this week
Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

Stay informed about your money.

In addition to this newsletter, read and share my weekly personal finance columns.

Do all you can to protect your data. It’s never been more vulnerable.

I finally got the Equifax credit monitoring service. Here’s why I still don’t feel safe.

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter @SingletaryM and on Facebook.


Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”

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