CBSN New YorkWatch

Experts: Protect Yourself From Identity Theft After Equifax Breach

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting bureaus, is offering free monitoring in the wake of a massive cyber security breach.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, the personal information of nearly 150 million Americans was stolen. Experts are offering advice on what consumers can do to protect their identities.

The Equifax breach is not the biggest ever, but it could be the most damaging. Names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license numbers were stolen.

“Equifax is supposed to be secure. They’re supposed to secure all your information – and they get hacked,” one man said.

In a video statement, Equifax chief executive officer Richard Smith said: “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company that strikes at who we are and what we do. I deeply regret this incident.”

Equifax announced Thursday that hackers had accessed web files from mid-May through mid-July. The personal information of 143 million Americans was compromised.

“I think it’s devastating. That’s half the population that has their information on the internet that someone else is now holding and essentially probably going to be sold,” said data security expert Matt Pascucci of Contemporary Computer Services Inc. “They have staff. These aren’t just guys working in their mom’s basement. They have criminal organizations.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” a man added. “Technology is just superseding our humanity.”

There are some steps you can take. Equifax has set up a dedicated website and telephone number — 866-447-7559 — to check if you are among the hacked and sign up for free credit monitoring – if you can get through.

The irony of the situation is not lost on customers.

“How safe is that?” one man said. “If they can hack this, they can hack credit monitoring.”

You can set up fraud alerts with all three big credit agencies, request a credit freeze to prevent anyone from borrowing in your name, monitor credit card and bank statements closely for unauthorized charges, and file tax returns early so identity thieves cannot access your tax refunds.

Also, do not click on any unknown links.

“Other malicious hackers are going to say there is an opportunity for us to now send out malicious emails with links that are going to pretty much drive people towards malware,” Pascucci said.

And while Equifax is offering a year of free identity theft protection to all its U.S. customers, experts caution that stolen data could be bought and sold for years.

Customers who sign up for the free identity theft and credit file monitoring must sign a waiver that may give up some legal rights to sue for damages. The company was criticized for requiring customers to sign the waiver.

Late Friday, Equifax clarified that the waiver does not apply to this incident.

“In response to consumer inquiries, we have made it clear that the arbitration clause and class action waiver included in the Equifax and TrustedID Premier terms of use does not apply to this cybersecurity incident,” Equifax said late Friday in a Progress Report for Consumers.

Equifax executives have also come under fire for selling $1.8 million in company shares after they discovered the company was hacked, but before they made the breach public.