The Equifax security breach may have exposed private information belonging to almost half the U.S. population, so you should definitely pay attention.
Credit reporting agencies work differently from other data companies, so while you may never have dealt with Equifax, their servers were still likely to have your data.
Here are some tips to help you protect yourself from consumer protection expert Bob Sullivan, an NBC News contributor and man behind The Red Tape Chronicles. Sullivan has more tips on his site.
- Equifax has set up an online registry you can check using your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number, but it doesn't offer satisfying results (check back in later this month!). There are also questions about an arbitration clause and what you're really getting from its offer of free ID theft protection. There's no harm in waiting a week or two while all that shakes out.
- Get a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and mark your calendar to get another one in about three months.
- Be on the lookout: Watch your mail for anything suspicious. Check your bank accounts at least weekly for signs of fraud. Listen closely when applying for a loan or a government benefit for signs that someone else might be using your Social Security number. Get your annual Social Security benefits statement online and look for anything unusual.
- Consider putting a security freeze on all your accounts — the most serious but most proactive step you can take. But take this step with great care. If you plan to shop for a car loan or a home loan any time soon, you probably shouldn't do this, because security freezes lock credit report files so no one — not even you — can open a new credit account in your name.
Freezes also generally cost money (the rules vary by state; Trans Union has a grid showing you the varying fee levels by state and consumer criteria), and they can be a hassle, because when it comes time to get a mortgage or an auto loan, consumers sometimes don't remember the procedure to "thaw" their reports.