Equifax has been scrambling to explain itself since disclosing last week that it exposed vital data about 143 million Americans — effectively most of the U.S. adult population.
It's come under fire from members of Congress, state attorneys general, and people who are getting conflicting answers about whether their information was stolen.
Some lawyers have already announced suits that they hope will be class-action cases.
The company keeps track of the detailed financial affairs of all Americans in order to gauge how much of a risk they are for borrowing money. That means it and its competitors, TransUnion and Experian, are a detailed storehouse of some of the most personal and sensitive information of Americans' financial lives. And all of it could be used for identity theft.
Bob Thomas, president of Lancaster-based Tabor Community Services, which provides credit counseling, says the best advice for anyone is to check to see if you might have been impacted, then be vigilant about monitoring your credit cards and credit reports.
“That was all prudent even before this happened,” Thomas said. “What this incident illustrates is if you weren’t doing those things in the past, you should have been.”
Here's the latest on what you need to know about the breach:
How do I find out if I’ve been affected?
Equifax has set up a website providing information about the breach as well as a simple way to check to see if you may have been impacted.
The site is equifaxsecurity2017.com, with the “potential impact” tab directing customers to the form where they can check their potential exposure by entering their last name and the last six digits of their social security number.
Equifax has also set up a hotline number where customers can get more information. The number is 866-447-7559. And, Equifax says it'll send a notice to all who had personally identifiable information stolen.
What should I do if I might have been affected?
Equifax is offering consumers free credit monitoring for a year which anyone can sign up for after checking to see if they may have been affected.
After some confusion about whether accepting credit monitoring from Equifax meant giving up the right to sue, the company said it didn’t.
“Enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not waive any rights to take legal action," it said.
What else should I keep in mind?
Ultimately, the onus will probably be on consumers to try to protect themselves. People should do all the things they're probably already heard about:
— Closely monitor their own credit reports, which are available free once a year, and stagger them to see one every four months.
— Stay vigilant, possibly for a long time. Scammers who get the data could use it at any time — and with 143 million to choose from, they may be patient.
— Consider freezing your credit reports. That stops thieves from opening new credit cards or loans in your name, but it also prevents you from opening new accounts. So if you want to apply for something, you need to lift the freeze a few days beforehand.