MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Equifax revealed last week that hackers may have stolen the personal information of more than 140 million Americans in one of the largest cyberattacks in history.
That data breach exposed Social Security numbers, addresses and credit card numbers to identity thieves.
So, what should people do now to protect themselves?
Experts say anyone with a credit report should assume they have been exposed. Those people should also monitor their credit reports, credit card statement and bank accounts. They could also consider a fraud alert or credit freeze.
A credit freeze restricts access to a credit report, which makes it difficult for thieves to open accounts in someone else’s name.
“If you’re getting a house and applying for a mortgage, the bank is not going to be able to see your report,” said Adam Strauss, a consumer protection attorney with Tarshish Cody. “They’re not going to be able to offer you the loan because they can’t get access to your credit report.”
To freeze a credit report, a person must call each of the national credit card reporting companies: Equifax (1-800-349-9960), Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).
Read More: Equifax Breach — What You Need To Do Now
That person has to give the company his or her name, address, Social Security number, date of birth and other personal information. The credit reporting companies then gives that person a PIN in return. That pin should be kept in a safe place because it will be required when someone wants to unfreeze his or her credit.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, a credit freeze does not affect a person’s credit score. It does cost between $5 and $10. A must unfreeze their credit another small fee when he or she wants to apply for credit, a job or an apartment.
If someone doesn’t want a credit freeze, he or she can call the credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert. Those are free and don’t lock down a person’s credit. Fraud alerts warn creditors that person could be an identity theft victim, so lenders have to call to verify it’s the person who wants to open the account.
The numbers to request a freeze are Equifax (1-888-766-0008), Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-800-680-7289).