The cyberattack on Equifax affected almost half the population of the United States. 143 million U.S. consumers potentially had their sensitive data stolen by hackers, as did around 400,000 individuals in the United Kingdom and 100,000 consumers in Canada.

To notify victims of the Equifax data breach by mail would have been a monumental and incredibly costly task. Instead, Equifax set up a website where breach victims could check to see if their data had been exposed and also register for free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.

The official website used for this purpose is equifaxsecurity2017.com. Visitors to the website are required to enter some personal information as identification – the last six digits of their Social Security number and their full name.

That site then directed visitors to a second site, Trustedidpremier.com – which, it has to be said, does seem somewhat phishy. The site is owned by Equifax, with the name taken from its identity theft protection service, but the site did not mention Equifax, which led to many consumers questioning whether the site was real.

These choices gave phishers with a gilt-edged opportunity to take advantage. By registering a website similar to that used by Equifax, it would be possible to fool many U.S. consumers into revealing their sensitive information. For instance, instead of asking for the last six digits of the Social Security number, criminals could ask for the full SSN, along with a date of birth and a full name. If the fake website had official Equifax logos, many consumers would be fooled.

If Equifax had put the information on a subdomain of its official website, it would be easy for consumers to verify that they were on the correct site. The decision to use a new website for this purpose has made it too easy for scammers to take advantage.

There have already been many fake Equifax domains registered and used for phishing. While these sites are being identified quickly and shut down, during the time they are online they can be used to capture large volumes of sensitive information. Some of the recently registered domains featured transposed letters and common misspellings, such as replacing the y with a u to catch out careless typists.

However, it is not only bad typists that could be fooled by such a scam. One fake site – securityequifax2017.com – was registered that would likely fool many consumers. Such a site should also have been purchased by Equifax to prevent it being purchased by a scammer.

Fortunately, the website had been purchased by a software developer called Nick Sweeting specifically to demonstrate how easy it would be to take advantage. It was made clear on the site that the website was fake, and was not actually being used for phishing, only to raise awareness of the risk of similar sites being purchased by phishers.

However, so realistic was the site that it even fooled one Equifax employee. On at least eight occasions, that individual Tweeted the fake domain via the official Equifax Twitter account. The incorrect link was tweeted on at least 8 occasions according to Sweeney.

The fake site has since been blocked and taken offline; however, for two weeks the site was active. Had this been a real Equifax phishing website, many consumers could have been fooled.