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How to Protect Yourself From the Equifax Security Breach

People all over the country are looking to protect themselves after credit reporting giant Equifax announced its computers were hacked, potentially exposing the personal information of millions of Americans.

The breach exposed Social Security numbers, current and past addresses, birthdays, and even driver's license numbers.

Equifax has set up a free credit monitoring and identity protection service that will help those affected.

You can use the site to check to see if you're a victim, and then join the monitoring program. That monitoring will only let you know what's happening moving forward.

A recent FTC study found that thieves pay top-dollar to get fresh, recently obtained stolen data, often within minutes. So, you could already have someone opening accounts in your name that just haven't popped up yet.

People are hesitant to sign up for Equifax's free monitoring because they don't want to give them their Social Security numbers again.

"I got to the website and it was like, 'Add your Social Security number, and the last four digits of your Social Security number, and your last name,' and I thought, 'No, you're already hacked. I'm not giving you more information.' So, I got nervous to be honest, and I didn't check," said one consumer.

Equifax's competitor, Experian, is saying it will give you free credit monitoring for a year, if you sign up with Experian.

There's another option that will give you much more protection than credit monitoring: credit freezing. It makes life a little harder, and costs you a few bucks, but it will keep your information safe.

To freeze a credit card, contact Equifax, Experian, and Transunion and tell them you want to freeze your account. They will lock it each credit report, but you still get to use credit cards and spend as normal.

The lock prevents new accounts from getting opened. So, you can't buy a house, a car, or open a new credit card while your account is frozen. However, they will give a PIN that allows these big purchases. Before making these types of purchases, call the credit bureau and give them the PIN.

They will release a credit report only to the company where the purchase is being made.

This protection that a credit freeze provides comes at a cost.

To lock it with Equifax, Experian, and Transunion, it costs $10.83 for each company – that's $32. 49 for all three.

It will also cost $10.49 each time your credit report is unlocked.

Equifax has said it will waive those fees for the time being.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that using the Equifax's credit monitoring service forfeits your right to sue or join the class-action lawsuits already being filed. Equifax has clarified its terms, and said that using its credit monitoring service will not impact your rights to sue for the earlier credit breach. 

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