Equifax announced the discovery of a July 29 data breach that occurred when”criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files,” according to a press release.

The credit reporting firm, which serves approximately half of the U.S. population, says 143 million consumers birthdays, Social Security numbers, addresses, and driver’s license numbers were exposed in addition to 209,000 credit card numbers and 182,000 dispute documents.

Experts say hackers can use the information to gain access to bank accounts and open new credit cards in the victim’s name.

“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Richard F. Smith in a statement.

“We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations.  We also are focused on consumer protection and have developed a comprehensive portfolio of services to support all U.S. consumers, regardless of whether they were impacted by this incident.”

Equifax has begun alerting consumers who were affected and is offering one year of free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring, although they said an internal investigation hasn’t revealed any unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.

The National Association of Realtors’ Jon Boughtin says the association hasn’t crafted an official statement on the matter just yet, but they’re pointing concerned Realtors to previous work they’ve done about data safety and security.

In April, Inman contributor and security expert Robert Siciliano shared these 9 tips that will be helpful for you or any clients you’re concerned may have been impacted by the breach:

  1. Don’t give out your SSN just because it’s asked for. An employer needs it. A real estate transaction needs it. Your medical carrier needs it. But no retailer on this planet needs it unless the client is applying for a store card, which you shouldn’t do.
  2. Place outgoing mail in a mailbox if your personal mailbox is not locked and can be opened by anyone passing by.
  3. Have personal checks delivered to your bank so you can pick them up if your mailbox doesn’t have a lock.
  4. If you haven’t gotten mail in several days, contact the post office.
  5. Twice a year check your credit report, plus your spouse’s and kids’.
  6. Carefully review the statements of all your credit cards every month.
  7. Never make a late payment for anything.
  8. If you’re expecting a new credit card and it’s even a day late, spring into action to find out why. When it arrives, sign immediately.
  9. Shred any documents before tossing them in the trash, and that includes credit card offers.

Email Marian McPherson

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