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Color of Money: Be as proactive as possible to protect your data

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- Just when you thought you'd heard the worst, Equifax announced that another 2.5 million consumers had their personal information stolen from its database, bringing the total to 145.5 million folks left vulnerable to identity theft.

This week, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing that immediately turned into a grilling of the credit bureau's former chief executive, Richard Smith.

"Equifax deserves to be shamed," Rep. Jan Schakowsky said during the hearing, and just about every legislator in the room did just that.

Smith apologized numerous times for the company's failing to protect people's data. But no matter what the company does, consumers can't be made whole. Equifax can't yank back our data from the hackers, who stole it after the company failed to do its job of protecting our information.

Smith said that under his leadership, Equifax put together a cybersecurity team of 225 experts around the world. Yet not one of them moved to adequately heed a warning from the Department of Homeland Security that certain software Equifax was using was vulnerable. According to Smith's testimony, they knew about a patch but failed to implement it.

Lots of readers are asking me what they should do.

Most of all, stay informed. This means regularly visiting the website Equifax set up to provide updates on this data breach: equifaxsecurity2017.com.

The company recently announced a few things you especially need to know.

-- By the end of January 2018, Equifax will be offering a free credit lock for life. With this new service, you'll be able to use your smartphone or computer to easily lock and unlock your Equifax credit file.

"It will be reliable, safe and simple," said interim chief executive Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.

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