Experts say if you're not worried about Equifax data breach, you should be

Hackers recently stole the personal information of about 143 million Americans from credit monitoring company Equifax — an act that has ramifactions that could be felt for years to come.

CADILLAC — Hackers recently stole the personal information of about 143 million Americans from credit monitoring company Equifax — a crime that has ramifications that could be felt for years to come.

Wexford Community Credit Union CEO Julie Rushing said it's hard to imagine the implications this data breach has for millions of consumers and American financial institutions.

"It's almost dumbfounding," Rushing said. "It's definitely the biggest data breach I've seen. Whatever you can imagine for a worse-case scenario, there's potential for it to be worse. It could be a long time before we know the full fallout of this."

What makes this breach so insidious is that in other cases of businesses leaking personal information, it's mostly contained to addresses, birth dates and credit card numbers.

Not so for the data stolen from Equifax, which includes Social Security and driver's license numbers.

"This is information that makes up the core of a person's identity," Rushing said. "You can change an address or de-activate a credit card, but everyone has a Social Security number, and this information is never going to change."

Equifax has set up a special website, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/, where people can check to see if their personal information may have been stolen. Consumers also can call 866-447-7559 for more information.

Rushing said the hackers who stole the information may sit on it for years as they figure out how to use it without authorities tracing it back to them.

Before a person becomes a victim of identity theft, however, there are steps they can take to protect themselves.

Rushing said probably the most important thing to do is constantly monitor accounts and credit activity.

"A lot of people (don't know or take advantage of this), but you are entitled to a free credit report every year," Rushing said. "Make sure you recognize the transactions and monitor what's going on."

Another thing you can do is look into identification protection services such as those offered through Life Lock or your financial institution.

Rushing offers some advice provided to her by the bank's Cybersecurity Team at KnowBe4.

Watch out for the following:

• Phishing emails that claim to be from Equifax where you can check if your data was compromised

• Phishing emails that claim there is a problem with a credit card, your credit record or other personal financial information

• Calls from scammers that claim they are from your bank or credit union

• Fraudulent charges on any credit card because your identity was stolen

Here are five things you can do to prevent becoming a victim of ID theft:

• First, sign up for credit monitoring (there are many companies providing that service including Equifax but we cannot recommend that)

• Next, freeze your credit files at the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Remember that generally, it is not possible to sign up for credit monitoring services after a freeze is in place. Advice for how to file a freeze is available on a state-by-state basis: http://consumersunion.org/research/security-freeze/

• Check your credit reports via the free annualcreditreport.com

• Check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized activity

If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, there is a website where you can learn more about how to protect yourself, www.idtheftcenter.org. You can also call the center’s toll-free number, 888-400-5530, for advice on how to resolve identify-theft issues. All of the center’s services are free.