The data breach of Equifax, one of the big three major credit reporting agencies, has exposed the sensitive, personal information of 143 million Americans, according to news reports.

The breach lasted from mid-May through July, 2017 according to Equifax. Hackers gained access to people’s names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. They also took the credit card numbers of about 209,000 people, as well as dispute documents containing personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. As the investigation continues, it’s likely the number of Americans determined to be affected will increase.

Chances are, some of you are among the millions whose information was exposed. And, you’ll likely have questions about what you can do to protect yourself.

This breach opens an opportunity for us to reach out to you – whether you were affected or not – by sharing the steps everyone can take to protect their personal and financial information from being misused.

Was I Exposed?
The first thing you can do to find out if your information was exposed is to submit your last name and the last six digits of your social security number in a short form on Equifax’s website. The site can tell the submitter if they’ve been affected by the data breach.

Next, you can enroll for a free year of credit monitoring. Even if your information was not exposed, consumers can still receive the benefit along with other services.

You should also request free copies of your credit reports from Equifax and the other two nationwide credit reporting agencies, Experian and Transunion. Copies can be requested at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Check Reports Closely
When you receive these reports, you should review them closely for any accounts you didn’t open, incorrect personal information, and any credit inquiries from any companies you didn’t contact.

While placing a freeze on credit reports can make it more difficult for thieves to open a new account in your name, it can’t prevent them from making changes to existing accounts.

In addition, you should consider setting up a fraud alert . This means creditors must verify your identity before issuing a new credit card, opening a new account or increasing a credit limit on an existing account.

The alert can’t stop a lender from opening credit in your name the same way a freeze does, but it will require lenders to take additional steps to verify your identity first.

Find Out More
Equifax has posted a frequently asked questions page on its website. Many of the answers you may be seeking can be found there.

Here’s one more tip: We are encouraging you to file your taxes early. Tax identity theft happens when someone else uses your social security number to file for a tax refund or apply for a job. If possible, as soon as you have all the annual tax information you need to file, then you should do so before a scammer can.

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