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Millions of Americans are still trying to figure out how to protect themselves since the Equifax breach, and they're getting angrier. The credit rating company found out it had been hacked on July 29, but it didn't reveal that to the public until last week. One-hundred-forty-three million people had their personal information exposed. Now Equifax faces numerous lawsuits, a huge stock price hit and investigations. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: It's been nearly a week, and Equifax continues to bungle its response. Lisa Gerstner is tracking it both as a possible victim and as a writer for Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
LISA GERSTNER: The call lines have been flooded to them. I think their call centers are overwhelmed. When I tried to call last Friday about it, I got a busy signal, and then it hung up on me. So I went online.
NOGUCHI: But problems continue with Equifax's website. The company says as of Tuesday, 11 and a half million people had signed up to monitor their reports. But even today, others trying to sign in encountered system error messages. Equifax declined an interview. It has tried to respond to public outcry, removing legal language on its site, for example, that appeared to waive consumers' rights to sue. Gerstner was offended by Equifax and other credit agencies' attempts to capitalize on the traffic by selling data protection services.
GERSTNER: Which I think is also something that makes this Equifax breach kind of galling to people - is that it's the same company selling us services to protect ourselves that's now given up our data.
NOGUCHI: It's not just consumers and investors coming down hard on Equifax. The usual legal and political powers are also demanding answers and justice. Massachusetts State Attorney General Maura Healey, who plans to file suit, called Equifax's breach, quote, "the most brazen failure to protect consumer data we have ever seen." Other states and at least one federal agency have said they have opened their own investigations. Members of Congress have demanded a full accounting of the breach as well.
Meanwhile, for consumers, security experts say the burden will fall mostly on them to manage the aftermath. Robert Schoshinski is assistant director of privacy and identity protection for the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating the Equifax incident.
ROBERT SCHOSHINSKI: The tools that consumers have are things that they have to do themselves.
NOGUCHI: Freezing your credit, a service Equifax says it is now offering temporarily free of charge, can protect against people trying to establish new accounts. Experts also urge consumers to regularly pull credit reports, monitor every bank statement, put fraud alerts on credit cards and to file tax returns as early as possible to try to prevent fraudulent filings. When it comes to consumer alternatives, Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan is an even bigger pessimist or realist depending on your point of view.
AVIVAH LITAN: This was a horrible event, but this data has already been leaked.
NOGUCHI: Litan says freezing credit prevents fewer than 5 percent of financial crimes. Sadly, she says, because the three credit agencies have a virtual monopoly, there are no decent alternatives. Consumers like Jacob Palenske of Dallas now take a different approach.
JACOB PALENSKE: The change now is that because I feel like there is no such thing as true privacy when it comes to data, that instead of depending on and trusting the organizations that I give my data to to keep it protected, I've taken that upon myself now to say, all right, I have to be very proactive and not assume that they are protecting it.
NOGUCHI: And that unfortunately is about all you can do. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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