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Computer hackers breached Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting bureaus, the bureau announced yesterday. Personally identifiable information was accessed for 143 million Americans. This isn’t great news, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

In this post, we’ll briefly cover the scope of the breach, how to find out whether you were affected and steps you can take to secure your information.

What Was Taken

There were 143 million Americans impacted by this Equifax breach that took place between mid-May and the discovery of the hack on July 29. The information taken includes:

  • Names
  • Social Security numbers
  • Birthdates
  • Addresses

In addition to this, credit card numbers were stolen for 209,000 U.S. customers. An unspecified amount of driver’s license information was also obtained. Finally, credit dispute documents containing some personally identifiable information for 182,000 Americans were also included in the stolen data.

The hackers’ access to the system was cut off once the breach was discovered July 29. An independent cyber security firm was brought in to determine the scope of the information accessed.

Equifax has set up a site where consumers can see if they were affected by the breach. Unfortunately, it appears to be giving some consumers different answers depending on when it is used. It’s probably best to assume you’re affected.

Protect Yourself

With that said, there are a few things you can do right now to monitor for red flags.

The biggest step you can proactively take in the wake of this breach is just to monitor your financial accounts for any unauthorized activity.

The Federal Trade Commission also has an identity theft site. This will give you information on how to place a freeze on your credit report and information on placing a fraud alert.

Financial expert Clark Howard recommends placing a security freeze on your credit report. This will likely cost you a few dollars with each of the credit bureaus, but it will prevent anyone unauthorized from running your records for new loans or credit applications. When you want to have your credit run for a legitimate purpose, you can remove the freeze temporarily. In some states, the bureaus may be legally prohibited from charging a fee.

Any security breach of this magnitude is worrisome, but if you maintain constant vigilance over your financial and personal data, you should be able to prevent any issues before they become an emergency.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. We’ll do our best to get you the answers.

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