Equifax, the Big Breach

If you’re like most Canadians, you may be wondering how the Equifax customer information breach can affect you. After all, credit bureaus have access to much of our most sensitive personal information, and seeing a hack like this one should worry all of us.

The good news (at least according to the customer service agents for Equifax who serve Canada), only investors who have had any dealings in the United States are at risk of the hack. Canadians who have lived, worked or applied for a loan down in the United States are at risk.

This information came from calls that reporters at the Toronto Sun made to customer service representatives with Equifax. Officially, Equifax Canada says on their website that “only a limited number of Canadians may have been affected,” and there has not been any other official statement for the company.

The Canadian government is considering changes to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which would require any organizations that have been hacked to send detailed information to the consumers affected as well as to Canada’s Privacy Commissioner. This information has to include the date of period of time of the breach and a detailed accounting of the personal information that may have been compromised. The text of the changes went up in Canada Gazette on September 2, allowing a 30-day public comment period.

Currently, Canadian law does not require companies like Equifax to report breaches at all, let alone provide any information about them. In comparison with the United States and the European Union, Canada is well behind the times in this area. Legislation passed in 2015 does have a provision for requiring breach reporting but lacks the corresponding regulation that would make the law enforceable. In Europe, companies that fail to report breaches can face a fine of $30 million or 4 per cent of revenues.

Equifax has to keep American and Canadian credit files separate because of differences in laws in the two countries. However, American lenders can request Canadians’ credit files if the Canadian consumers give permission. One example might be a Canadian purchasing a vacation cottage in the United States. Applying for that mortgage would create a U.S. credit file for that consumer – which would then have been at risk in this most recent hack.

Moving forward, the hope is that the Canadian government will approve the changes to existing law and regulations so that situations like what happened to Equifax come with more information and more disclosure. The stress of wondering about your own personal financial information can be considerable. Equifax and the other credit bureaus should be more accountable to the public that they serve.

If you’re concerned about your own profile, contact Equifax at (866) 828-5691 (English) or (877) 323-2598 (French). As of this writing, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has not received any complaints about identity theft or other issues coming from the Equifax hack, but it is best to find out the particulars of your own account as soon as possible.

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