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Consumer credit bureau Equifax has been breached, and millions of consumer files were stolen. Given the magnitude of the breach there’s a very good chance that one of them is yours. Here’s what we know, and what you can do to protect yourself.

According to Equifax, on July 29, 2017, the company discovered that criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files.

The company engaged an independent cybersecurity firm, which has been conducting a comprehensive forensic review to determine the scope of the intrusion, including the specific data impacted. Equifax also reported the criminal access to law enforcement and continues to work with authorities.

Based on the company’s investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017.

What Information Was Involved

Most of the consumer information accessed includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some instances, driver’s license numbers.

In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 consumers and certain dispute documents, which included personal identifying information, for approximately 182,000 consumers were accessed.

Equifax will send direct mail notices to consumers whose credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information were impacted.

The company said it found no evidence of unauthorized access to Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.

What Equifax Is Doing

Equifax has established a dedicated website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to help consumers.

On the site, you’ll find a tool that can help you to determine if your information was potentially impacted by this incident. To find out if you are potentially impacted, go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, and click on “Potential Impact,” and enter your last name and last 6 digits of your Social Security number.

Equifax is also offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring to all U.S. consumers, even if you are not impacted by this incident.

This offering, called TrustedID Premier, includes 3-Bureau credit monitoring of your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports; copies of your Equifax credit report; the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit report; identity theft insurance; and Internet scanning for your Social Security number – all complimentary to U.S. consumers for one year.

To find out more information on this complimentary offer and to sign up, please click on the tab “Enroll” on this site. You must complete the enrollment process by November 21, 2017.

Here Are Some Things You Can Do

Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

So, Equifax is offering a free year of their monitoring service. Even though, yes, they were the ones that botched things in the first place (and lost customer data to thieves), you should nonetheless take them up on the offer.

Think about it: Equifax is going to spend millions upgrading their cybersecurity now, and unless they are total incompetents they will be really, really careful with data over the next year.

This is a premium service that will keep an eye on any use of your accounts or Social Security number.

On the Equifax site you’ll see the “Identity Theft Prevention Tips” below, and the “State Information” tabs. This information provides additional steps you can take, including how to obtain a free copy of your credit report and place a fraud alert and/or credit freeze on your credit report.

In addition, monitor your account statements and report any unauthorized charges to your credit card companies and financial institutions.

Keep in mind: stolen data gets used over time. You may not immediately see any unauthorized activity on your accounts, or using your identity – even though your data was stolen in this breach. However, the thieves often take months to actually utilize the identities and data they’ve stolen.

Keep an eye on your accounts, in other words. Don’t get complacent.

Take Action Immediately If You Are the Victim of Identity Theft

If you notice suspicious activity – such as a credit account being opened in your name by a stranger – you must take action immediately.

You should contact the proper law enforcement authorities, including local law enforcement, and you should consider contacting your state attorney general and/or the Federal Trade Commission. You also may contact the FTC to obtain additional information about avoiding identity theft.

Equifax is providing contact information:

Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center

600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580; 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)

www.ftc.gov/idtheft

State Attorneys General: Information on how to contact your state attorney general may be found at www.naag.org/naag/attorneys-general/whos-my-ag.php.

You may obtain information from the FTC and the credit reporting agencies listed above about placing a fraud alert and/or credit freeze on your credit report. Please also visit the “State Information” tab of this site.

Again, start by checking to see if you’ve likely been impacted here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/

Katie Lobosco at CNN Money offers these two tips, among others:

“Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit”

“You can put a fraud alert on your credit reports for free by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two. This means you’ll be contacted if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. It will last for 90 days and can be renewed.”

“If you’re really worried, put a freeze on your credit”

Lobosco wrote, “This is an extreme step and might not be necessary, especially if you don’t know for sure that you’re information was compromised, or what personal information was stolen.”

“A freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission. But it can be an inconvenience for you, too. If you want to take out a loan or open a new credit card, you’ll have to contact the reporting agency to temporarily lift the freeze. It’s also not free. Fees to freeze your account vary by state, but commonly range from $5 to $10.” Read her complete article here: “http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/09/pf/what-to-do-equifax-hack/index.html”

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