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Protect Your Credit & Identity If You Were Compromised

This article: Equifax Hack — How To Protect Your Credit And Identity If Your Data Was Compromised was posted last month on the Forbes.com website.

I write about building wealth and achieving financial freedom. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

As widely reported, the credit reporting bureau Equifax was recently hacked. If you have a credit report, you’re likely one of the 143 million Americans whose data may have been exposed, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

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A monitor displays Equifax Inc. signage on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The dollar fell to the weakest in more than two years, while stocks were mixed as natural disasters damped expectations for another U.S. rate increase this year. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

According to Equifax, the breach lasted more than a month, from mid-May until July of this year. The hackers gained access to people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even some driver’s license numbers. They also got credit card numbers for 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal information for 182,000 consumers.

Unfortunately, at least some of your information was likely involved in this breach if you had a credit file with Equifax. I can tell you that my data was compromised. Let’s walk through what you need to do to first determine whether your information was compromised. Then we’ll look at what you can do about it.

 The first step is to visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if your information was exposed. The site includes a Potential Impact tab, where you can enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. (Be sure you’re on a secure computer and internet connection when you’re doing this!) This will tell you whether or not your information was compromised.

Enroll in free credit monitoring even if the site doesn’t say you were affected. You’ll be able to find out when you can enroll at the site linked above. You’ll have from that date until November 21, 2017 to enroll for a free year of credit monitoring.

Here I should add that one year of free credit monitoring is totally inadequate. The Equifax data theft can have life-long consequences for consumers. When a credit card number is stolen, you simply get a new card with a new number. You can’t, however, get a new date of birth or Social Security number.

For this reason, consumers should also enroll in several free credit score services. I use several of them and receive email alerts when changes appear on my credit report. You can find a list of free credit score services here.

Next, check your credit reports now so that you have a baseline. You can get your free annual credit reports from www.annualcrediterport.com. You can also get your reports along with your credit scores directly from FICO.