Equifax has promised free credit monitoring, but it’s been hard for customers to access it. (Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency/EFE)

People are in a panic.

Like the back-to-back hurricanes this year, the theft of our personal data is increasingly catastrophic. The latest breach is courtesy of the credit bureau Equifax. The company reported that 143 million consumers’ personal data was stolen. Hackers got key information — consumer addresses, Social Security, driver’s license and credit card numbers.

Equifax is offering complimentary identity theft protection and a credit file monitoring product, called TrustedID Premier.

“Regardless of whether your information may have been impacted, we will provide you the option to enroll,” the company said.

People have tried to take Equifax up on its offer. But many have had trouble enrolling.

Read more: Equifax says it’s overwhelmed. Its customers say they are getting the runaround.

Here are some experiences:

Carol and her husband weren’t successful, She writes: “What in the world can we do? I’m a senior citizen and not computer savvy so this has really been enormously frustrating to me and my husband. Help.”

From Consumer Reports: How to protect yourself from Identity Theft: ID theft is real but overhyped by companies selling pricey services. These eight steps can secure your identity for less.

Tom wrote: “I am one of those who cannot seem to connect with Equifax concerning its loss of my financial information. Your column reports that the company will provide customers with ‘automated alerts of key changes to … account files with (all three bureaus).’ I might have been interested if a) I could get through to them, or b) I didn’t already get the same from Discover credit card in its service, which is free and took less than a minute to subscribe to.”

James and Sandra couldn’t enroll.

“You can add me and my husband to the list.” Sandra wrote. “I followed the instructions diligently, and after enrolling online I also called them. I was told I would get an email instructing me how and when to ‘finalize my enrollment.’ We are still waiting and not sure what to do as we, like millions of others, were informed that our personal financial information might have been compromised in the company’s recent data breach.”

Edith wrote, “I, too experienced a week of mounting frustrations with Equifax’s horrendous ‘response’ to the breech. I also went through all the processes you and your readers described, including waiting for a nonexistent email that never came. My response was to keep trying to enroll. After being told multiple times that I needed to mail my request, etc., one day it worked.”

“After talking to a person (hard to understand) about my application for TrustedID, he gave me another number to call,” wrote M. Trussell from Maryland. “That gentleman, Paul, ran my email through and said there was no record of my applying on 9-10-17. He suggested I go through process again in about two weeks. He admitted they were crazy overwhelmed. This after checking daily email, spam and junk folders.”

Here’s what happened to Gordon when he tried to enroll.
— “I was told my details were likely compromised — not a big surprise since it affected 143 million.”
— “I had my date to enroll in TrustedID, which made no sense to me. I had to be given a date? All this sort of thing is done through computer systems so why did I have to wait five days before I could enroll? That is just 5 more days I am exposed.”
— “I enrolled dutifully ‘on my date’ and was told I would receive it in a few days, check my spam if I didn’t get it. It hasn’t come to my email inbox or spam.”
— “Tried to freeze my credit with them and got the ‘we are unable to process your request right now, our systems are busy.’ No kidding.”
“I am getting so sick of these events that I could scream, whether it’s Bernie Madoff, Enron, or a credit bureau who decides not to patch their servers from known vulnerabilities while a few executives make several million off ‘coincidentally’ timed stock sales,” Gordon writes. “The little guys/gals always are the ones that get it in these situations.”

Read more: Equifax had patch 2 months before hack and didn’t install it, security group says

What about putting a credit freeze on your file?
Many security experts are advising people to put a credit freeze on their files. It’s not an easy process but one that could give you some peace of mind.

“I tried to put a security freeze on my credit report about a week ago,” one reader wrote. “After inputting all my information, it said the system wasn’t working and couldn’t complete the freeze. I received no personal identification number. Then, this weekend, I tried again. After inputting my information, it only gave me options to lift a freeze, which suggested I’d been successful at placing the freeze. But, I didn’t have a PIN. I called their help line, and the representative said Equifax hadn’t given them access to the database (I assume he meant the database of customer info.) and couldn’t give me a PIN and all he could do was to refer me to the Updates section of their website. This section said nothing of any help. So, I have no idea if the freeze was placed and I don’t have a PIN if I want to lift it. I know Sen. Sherrod Brown from my state of Ohio and some other Democrats have tried to make Equifax better, but no Republicans seem to be helping this effort and nothing is happening. Overall, this situation is very frustrating. These credit bureaus gather information on our private lives, lose that information to thieves and then charge us so the thieves can’t use it. But, even if we pay them, their systems are so crappy, we can’t implement the security freeze. It’s like a mafia protection scheme.”

Read this from Brian Krebs of krebsonsecurity.com: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze

Paul thinks we in the media are too hard on Equifax.

“I successfully place a credit freeze with Equifax and successfully obtained the free monitoring service,” he wrote. “No one reports on this. Moreover, no one reports that there has been not a single consumer complaining that their data has been improperly used. I am not a shill for Equinox [Michelle: The misspelling of the credit bureau proves his point]. These are simply the facts that you guys do not report because it’s not sexy.”

In response to Paul, I pointed out that hackers might not strike right away while the breach is still a hot topic. Many people may be victimized weeks, months if not years from now.

Read more: If you’re not worried about the Equifax hack, you should be.

Not worried? Read this from the Federal Trade Commission: How fast will identity thieves use stolen info?

As Adam Shell writes for USA Today, “Once hackers gain access to these key pieces of personal data — which is akin to the DNA of a person’s online digital self — it is at the cyber thieves’ disposal forever to cause harm.”

Read more: Equifax data breach could create lifelong identity theft threat

Evelyn Soler-Hamilton of Maryland and her husband were able to get freezes on their reports.

“We both were able to get our Equifax accounts locked after several tries. We went online very late at night and early morning.”

But she has a suggestion: “Would it be feasible for Equifax to just lock all Equifax accounts and whoever didn’t want that could opt out. Account holders would still have access to their ongoing credit accounts. I would much prefer that if I were still trying to lock up our accounts.”

Despite Equifax hack, GOP lawmakers want to deregulate credit agencies

Don’t expect consumer friendly help from Equifax
Last week I asked: What’s been your experience with Equifax and the data breach or for that matter getting any help with credit report issues?

Chris Bowker from Maryland had an interesting perspective of what can happen after getting a credit freeze.

Bowker wrote: “I have had security freezes on all three credit bureaus for the past few years, long before this recent breach. I was completing an online application for a checking account, forgetting initially that a freeze would affect my application. The final section of the app had security questions with multiple-choice answers that contained information from my credit history. After completing the questions, I was then declined from opening an account. I was sure it must have been due to my freezes. So the freeze worked, but why was there any information from my credit history there at all? When I called Equifax, and selected the response to speak to a representative, I just got a busy signal. When I asked the company I was attempting to do business with why I was declined, and which credit bureau they work with, they could not tell me. I should not have to pay to temporarily lift freezes with all three bureaus simply to open this new account.”

Color of Money question of the week
If you have a credit freeze on your files, have you had any trouble locking and unlocking it? And I still want to hear what you’ve been experiencing when enrolling for the free credit monitoring service from Equifax. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line put “Equifax” in the subject line. Given the nature of this issue, I’m happy to just include first initial, last name, city and state.

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