September 27, 2017 / 3:40 PM / a year ago

COLUMN-Where consumers should turn after the Equifax breach

 (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a
columnist for Reuters.)
    By Gail MarksJarvis
    NEW YORK, Sept 27 (Reuters) - There is a widespread sense of
fear hanging over consumers in the aftermath of the data breach
at credit-monitoring firm Equifax         revealed in early
September that approximately 143 million consumers' personal and
financial records were exposed.
    It would be bad enough if people were merely worried about
crooks using their Social Security numbers to empty their bank
accounts or steal tax refunds. But they also have a feeling of
defenselessness as they come to the realization that they cannot
even trust where to go for help. 
    "Trust has vanished completely," says Neal O’Farrell,
executive director of the Identity Theft Council. "If you don't
know who to trust anymore, you don't even know who to go to for
    A worried Chicago resident echoed this in an email after
going to the Equifax website to get a credit freeze: "I received
the follow-up email a few days ago and had to give the last four
digits of my Social Security number and answer some credit
questions from my credit history. Now I am wondering if even
that email response to my filing for the freeze is even
legitimate. I’ve become paranoid about giving any information
over the Internet."
    While the main Equifax line (1-866-349-5191) consistently
gives out a busy signal if you seek an agent, cyber security
experts believe that technologically clever crooks could be
creating phony emails and websites that look legit. 
    The emails may appear to be from the four credit bureaus -
Equifax, Experian         , TransUnion         and Innovis - or
financial institutions, credit monitoring firms and even the
    "Scammers will use realistic-looking sites," said John
Krebs, who heads the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft
program. "Emails may create a sense of urgency so people click
on a link."
    But clicking on a link can allow scammers to infiltrate your
computer and get your data, if they do not have it already. To
stay safe, do not answer questions in emails or phone numbers in
those emails, said Krebs. Instead, look up a main number for
that institution and call them directly. 
    You can find contacts at the Federal Trade Commissions
website on identity theft (here).
    In one example of vulnerability, a spoof site was created
recently to look just like the actual Equifax site
( where people could ask whether their
Social Security numbers were stolen. It was so convincing that
at one point, an Equifax representative on Twitter mistakenly
directed people to the fake site, said Brian Krebs, an
investigative reporter for - and no relation
to the FTC's John Krebs.
    Luckily, the fake site was created by an individual simply
to show the weaknesses in the system and it was taken down after
making its point, Brian Krebs noted.
    There are other alarming signs that you are vulnerable even
when trying to protect yourself. recently
reported that a credit freeze to keep crooks from opening lines
of credit may not be as solid as you think.
    The site found a weakness on Experian that would allow a
crook to start the process of retrieving a PIN and unlocking the
freeze simply by using the Social Security numbers and addresses
stolen from Equifax. 
    Some security questions are also included, but Brian Krebs
thinks answers would be easy to figure out using Internet
searches. In a statement, Experian said the process of
retrieving PINs goes beyond that. 
    Still, with trust shaken, Brian Krebs worries: "People are
going to throw up their hands and say, 'Who cares?' But that
does them no good."
    Instead, he recommends going through the steps to put the
freezes on their credit at the four bureaus while keeping a
vigilant eye out for the next scam. 

 (Editing by Beth Pinsker and G Crosse)
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