Credit reporting agency Equifax said Thursday that hackers have breached personal information belonging to 143 million Americans.
That means that roughly 44 percent of the country’s population may have had their social security, credit card, or driver’s license number compromised along with various other pieces of identifying data.
Equifax is asking its customers to visit a special website (equifaxsecurity2017.com) it set up to determine whether you might have been affected by the cyberattack. Of course, that website also asks you to enter part of your social security number as well. The firm has also set up a call center (866-447-7559) that’s open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. ET to answer any questions, though based on initial reports, it doesn’t sound like that has been particularly helpful.
In the smaller number of cases in which credit card numbers or dispute documents were stolen—Equifax says around 400,000 people—customers will receive direct mail notices.
The impact isn’t limited to Equifax customers. If you’ve ever applied for a loan, mortgage, or credit card, Equifax may have your information stored as well.
If you do find that your personal information may have been impacted, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.
One recourse is to enroll in an identity protection service. Equifax is now offering its own “TrustedID Premier” program for free for a year regardless of whether or not your information may have been hacked. That service will monitor whether your information is used to open new credit accounts or your social security number appears on suspicious websites and insure you against some of the potential damage of identity theft.
Some experts see this as a brazen sales ploy on Equifax’s part to hook new customers into the service. Identity protection firms typically offer a free trial period anyway before plying you with premium add-ons.
If you’ve understandably lost trust in Equifax’s ability to secure your data, there are other identity protection services you can try as well.
Typically, these companies fall into one of two categories: credit monitoring, which tracks suspicious activity across the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), and identity monitoring, which scans for instances in which your bank account or social security number is being used for purposes that don’t appear on your credit report, including payday loans, social media, and court records.
There are also a number of identity theft insurance agencies and identity recovery firms in the case that you find you have been a victim of identity theft. You can read more about what services are best for you on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
Beyond protection services, consumer guides recommend taking basic steps like changing passwords, contacting banks and other financial institutions, and keeping a close eye on credit statements for suspicious activity.