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The Equifax Data Breach: What can you do protect yourself?

RICHMOND, Va. -- Laine Anderson looks out for her 17-year-old dog Bootsy, and Bootsy looks out for Anderson, but Bootsy can't do much to protect Anderson's identity.

Hackers accessed her sensitive personal information, like her date of birth and social security number, during a massive breach at her credit reporting agency, Equifax.

"I live on social security if, God forbid, somebody got a hold of my money, I would be up a creek," Anderson said.

Laine Anderson

To alleviate some worry, Anderson tried to put a freeze on her credit report, but said the Equifax website did not work.

"Where it said click on the credit freeze nothing happened, and the librarian tried to help me do it, and we got the same thing," Anderson said.

A quick search of the internet shows many people are reporting apparent glitches with the website in the aftermath of the breach, which impacted 143 million people.

"I guess they were so busy they couldn't handle it," Anderson said.

Even cyber security expert Dr. Wei Cheng encountered problems when he visited the Equifax site to see if the breach impacted him.

"I trust them, but not 100 percent," Cheng said.

The VCU professor showed CBS 6 how when he put in a fake name and social security information, a message came back telling him he was not affected by the breach.

"I was so surprised to see this," Cheng said.

He pointed out that the system should have told him the information could not be identified instead of telling him he wasn't impacted.

Dr. Cheng also showed demonstrated how the site urges everyone, whether you're impacted or not, to sign up for Equifax's free credit monitoring service called Trust ID Premier.

Cheng said he opted not to do it because it requires customers enter personal information yet again.

"That made me uncomfortable," Cheng said. "There is the potential to leak our information one more time."

"So this step opens you up more to leak of information?" CBS 6 Problem Solver investigator Melissa Hipolit asked?

"I think so because there is more chance... because I transmit my information one more time through the internet, and this database, I don't know how it's maintained," Cheng responded.

Instead, Cheng recommends changing all your usernames and passwords often and regularly checking your credit or debit card transactions for suspicious purchases.

He also said to be wary of all emails or phone calls from people saying you're under attack and must provide information ASAP.

"So maybe taking some personal responsibility it sounds like? We need to be taking responsibility upon ourselves to be making sure people aren't using our credit cards or bank accounts?" Hipolit asked Cheng.

"Yes," Cheng replied.

Still, Cheng said even when following those steps, you're never truly protected.

"In the cyber world, so far, nothing is 100 percent secure," Cheng said.

"Do you think we'll ever get to 100 percent secure?" Hipolit asked.

"No, it's impossible, technically it's impossible," Cheng responded.

It’s an impossibility that does not sit well with Anderson.

"I was pretty confident that my information would be my information and it wouldn't go to anyone else," Anderson said. "That's crazy."

CBS 6 reached out to Equifax about this story, but we never heard back.

The Virginia Attorney General's office told us the breach impacted 4.4 million Virginians. The Federal Trade Commission provided this advice for impacted consumers:

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

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