An estimated 143 million Americans may have had their Social Security numbers stolen in the recent Equifax data breach. That’s roughly half of the adults in the United States.
Your name and Social are only the tip of the iceberg. Criminals may have your birth date, address and even driver’s license number at their fingertips. The impact of this stolen information could linger for years to come.
This could not only could affect your financial well-being, but also your career. Credit checks are commonplace in some areas during the hiring process, and if your identity was stolen and used to create fraudulent financial accounts, you may get red-flagged by a hiring manager who questions your poor credit report.
Why employers check your credit
Eleven states limit the use of employment credit checks, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Some cities, including New York City and Chicago, have restricted credit checks as well.
That leaves a lot of the U.S. without restriction to credit checks for hiring purposes. So why would an employer want to see a credit report?
There are many reasons. In the financial industry, it’s apparent why it might be important. Some companies require it of all management-level employees, citing it as a reflection of trust and responsibility. Still others simply want to reduce their own risk of fraud, and feel a credit check may help them assess that risk.
What you can do
Visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the potential impact tab to learn if your number was stolen. Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring to anyone, whether their information was compromised or not. You can also purchase credit monitoring independently, if you prefer.
No matter what, keep tabs on your accounts and note any issues immediately. It could take months or even years for your credit report to reveal the impacts of identity theft. Therefore, it’s not likely to show up for any jobs you apply for now, but rather the ones you apply for down the road.
If you do become a victim of identity theft and your credit takes a nosedive, be proactive. When a potential employer gets permission to run your credit, explain the situation. The hiring manager will likely be more understanding of what’s on the report than if you remained silent.
Thoughts for employers
This whole unfortunate fiasco has me thinking it’s time to rethink the hiring process. For many positions, is it really necessary to verify credit to determine the best candidate? Employers are supposed to use credit checks only when necessary per Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules, but those guidelines are often loosely interpreted.
The more information employers require, the more information they must store safely. Think about the massive amounts of data collected during the hiring process. To minimize the amount of sensitive information collected would only limit the amount that could be hacked. This also minimizes risk to an employer who is responsible for keeping that information safe.
With brand reputation at stake, it’s not something you should gamble. Just look at how fondly everyone is thinking about Equifax right now.