n Thursday, September 7, credit reporting agency Equifax announced a cybersecurity incident that has the potential to impact 143 million of its U.S. customers.
According to Equifax’s statement, the breach occurred from May 13 to July 30 after hackers exploited a vulnerability in the Apache Struts web application that supports their online dispute portal. The information obtained primarily included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers.
Additionally, approximately 209,000 U.S. credit card numbers and 182,000 dispute documents containing personal identifying information were stolen.
Equifax discovered the breach on July 29. According to Bloomberg, Equifax appears to have been targeted because of the number of active credit cards the company keeps on file.
Following the announcement, the company established a separate website to help consumers determine if their information was compromised and allowed them to register for one year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Enrollment in the program ends November 21.
What you can do to protect your credit
It’s too early to know what the effects of this breach will be, but there are several credit protection options available to you now.
Take advantage of your free annual credit report. The government guarantees everyone a free annual credit report from each of the three major bureaus. When reviewing your reports, keep an eye out for suspicious accounts, debts you don’t recognize and other unfamiliar activity.
Consider freezing your credit. Freezing your credit is a simple process that makes it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent someone from exploiting your existing accounts.
Set fraud alerts. These alerts warn creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft and require them to verify your identity before opening an account. The initial alert will remain active for 90 days, after which it must be renewed.