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How to Protect Your Personal Data From Hackers

The Equifax security breach exposes nearly half of U.S. consumers to identify theft

Data breach

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Consumers should check their credit scores and set up a fraud alert on their credit report.

With credit-reporting firm Equifax revealing that hackers may have stolen financial and consumer data on at least 143 million customers in the U.S., it’s quite possible that your personal information — including birth date, Social Security number, driver’s license and address — could fall into the hands of criminals.

Equifax said that it hasn’t found evidence of unauthorized activity on its core consumer or commercial credit-reporting databases. But criminals could use the treasure trove of personal information acquired in the breach to apply for credit cards and loans in your name, access your bank accounts and establish a phony presence online with email and social media accounts.

Equifax is one of three major consumer credit-reporting agencies, with data on more than 820 million consumers and 81 million businesses worldwide. “Given the kind of data, the potential for financial fraud, and identity theft is quite high,’’ said cybersecurity expert Mark Nunnikhoven of security software firm Trend Micro.

Equifax has created a website ( where consumers can find out if their personal data has been compromised and is at risk. Consumers can also enroll for complimentary identity-theft protection and credit-file monitoring. The credit protection service is free for 12 months for consumers — not just breach victims — who sign up by Nov. 21.

At first, the Equifax site included a mandatory arbitration clause in the terms for the credit protection service, which raised concerns by some that people who signed up wouldn't be allowed to sue or join a class-action suit regarding the breach itself.  Equifax later clarified that the arbitration clause applied only to the credit monitoring service (not the breach itself) and after public pressure, Equifax has added an opt-out provision for the arbitration clause even for the credit monitoring service. Customers can opt out of the arbitration requirement by notifying Equifax in writing within 30 days of accepting the monitoring service.

Equifax has also established a toll-free response line for additional questions at 866-447-7559.

What else should consumers do?

  • Check your credit report with the other two big credit bureaus, TransUnion and Experian.
  • Add a fraud alert to your credit report. This notifies lenders and creditors checking your credit report to take additional steps to verify your identification before extending credit in your name. 
  • Check credit card and bank statements for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.
  • Consider an identity theft protection service.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network can provide more information about identity theft, investment fraud and other scams. To learn more, go to

Disclosure: AARP’s branded Identity Theft Protection service is provided by TrustedID, an Equifax company.