If you’ve ever opened a credit card, taken out a loan or have bills in your name, you’ve got a credit report. It also means you’re likely affected by the latest data breach. 143 million Americans had their personally identifiable information stolen from Equifax between May and July of this year. That’s nearly half the U.S. population. Equifax, one of the country’s three major credit reporting agencies, made the public announcement last week stirring scandal.

Equifax said it discovered the data breach on July 29. “Criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files,” the company said. Reportedly, thorough investigation prohibited them from disclosing the breach sooner.

The hackers pilfered all of the key information needed to steal identities… names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses and some driver’s license numbers, all of which Equifax claims to protect for its customers. The company added that 209,000 U.S. credit card numbers were obtained, in addition to “certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.”

You and your loved ones should take these steps ASAP to check if you’re affected and to protect yourself in the aftermath.

  1. Check with Equifax to see if you’re included in the data breach. Go here- https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/, click on “Check Potential Impact” then enter your last name and final six digits of your SSN. Equifax will then tell you whether they believe if your info has been compromised and provide a link to register for a free year of credit monitoring through their “Trusted ID Premier” program. Early issues with the remedy, such as a need for credit card info to sign up and a forced “terms of use” waiving your right to sue, have now been removed so consumers can breathe easier about the service.
  2. Sign up for monitoring and protection. Once you register for TrustedID Premier, you’ll receive an email within a few days with specific instructions on how to complete your set up. The service includes access to your Equifax credit report, monitoring for changes (such as newly opened credit card accounts or loans) on your credit reports from all three major credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), the ability to freeze and unfreeze your Equifax credit report, monitoring of your Social Security number on internet black-market sites (where delinquents buy and sell stolen information), and insurance to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses if you become an ID theft victim.
    1. If you’re leery of using Equifax for protection now, there are free services available. CreditKarma.com offers info from your TransUnion and Equifax reports plus, will alert you to any changes on your Transunion report. Your bank or credit card company may offer free assistance as well.
    2. Other services like Lifelock and Identity Guard offer a host of protection features for a price.
  3. Safeguard your credit. Each person is afforded one free credit report from each bureau per year from www.annualcreditreport.com so if you haven’t requested one in the last year, now is a good time. Review each report for any accounts you don’t recognize. Even an incorrect address can be a red flag so be vigilant and take necessary steps to solve any discrepancies. The toughest approach in this instance is to freeze your credit. To do this, you must go through each bureau separately and there may be a fee. This prohibits creditors from accessing your report which will make it tougher for crooks to open anything in your name. You’ll then have to lift the freeze to apply for anything in the future. As a less permanent alternative, you can initiate a 90-day fraud alert on your reports. You can do this through one agency and that agency will alert the other two. This alert requires lenders to take extra steps to verify identity when someone applies for credit. You will have to re-up the alert every 90 days to keep up with protection.
  4. File your taxes early. As soon as you have the necessary paperwork, file your taxes so the scammer can’t. Tax identity theft happens when a lawbreaker uses your SSN to get a tax refund or a job. Make certain to respond right away if you receive any mail from the IRS. Note- the IRS will not contact you by phone or email so beware phishing scams from so-called agents attempting to contact you in any other means besides mail.