I apologize for using the all caps EVERYONE but it is imperative for every American to take steps to protect their identities because of the Equifax data breach. It was by far the worst data breach in history because social security numbers, birthdays and addresses were exposed. This makes it essential for you to be on the offensive in protecting yourself immediately. You may have visited the Equifax website to see if you were exposed but don't trust the results because the site is virtually useless and Equifax should be ashamed of it (and the breach of course). ZDNet first reported that the checker was giving random responses! I tested it myself three times with the surname “test” and the social security numbers 123456, 234567 and 345678. Two times it said my data may have been exposed and lucky for test 234567, their data wasn't exposed?!?! Because of this, you have to just assume that your data was exposed and take action ASAP. You are better off spending 10-15 minutes of your time locking down your credit reports rather than spending many hours and huge headaches if your identity is stolen.

Place a security/credit freeze

You can and should put a security freeze on your credit report. You have to do this with each credit agency. You can call or do it online:

It doesn't take very long but some people have reported that the credit agency websites are having trouble keeping up with demand because they never had so many people rushing to place credit freezes before. I didn't have any problems myself and had it done within 10-15 minutes tops. Just be sure to keep your PIN in a safe place because you will need it to lift the freeze.

Keep in mind that if you need a new credit card or mortgage, the application will likely get rejected because they can't see your credit report. Therefore you will have to lift the freeze entirely or place a temporary lift to give a specific party access or for a certain amount of time. This can take some time to process so you will have to plan ahead.

The cost of a credit freeze varies by state and can cost $3-10 per agency. Equifax is waving fees through November 21st (Note Equifax is now extending this to January). If you are a victim of identity theft, there is no charge for placing a freeze. Furthermore if you live in Colorado, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina then you won't pay any fees.

While placing a freeze may seem a bit drastic, it seems to be the most effective way to protect your credit and your financial identity.

Monitor your open accounts

Now that thieves shouldn't be able to open new accounts in your name, you have to monitor your bank account, brokerage accounts and credit cards on a monthly basis. Theoretically, if someone has your name, social security number and address, they could call around and see where you have a bank account. They could then change the address and request a new ATM card.

The onus is now on you to monitor all your accounts. I would suggest signing up for online access for all your accounts and request email or text notifications. This should keep you in the loop for any fishy address changes. Take a few minutes to scan through your statements every month. You should be doing this with your statements anyway. Just this month, I got a bogus charge on my credit card and I spotted it right away because I get notified of all my activity on my AmEx card via the Amex app. This is real time monitoring and I was able to take action immediately.

Equifax will soon offer a free service for life

Today Equifax's interim CEO Paulino do Rego Barros Jr announced that he knows that the company needs to regain people's trust and there is change on the way. He made an exciting announcement but it remains to be seen what the end result will be. Hopefully all the credit agencies will follow suit and this breach will lead to positive changes for all consumers. Here is the annoucement from Barros:

“By Jan. 31, Equifax will offer a new service allowing all consumers the option of controlling access to their personal credit data. The service we are developing will let consumers easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files. You will be able to do this at will. It will be reliable, safe and simple. Most significantly, the service will be offered free, for life.”

Listen to the bonus episode of Inspired Money

If you haven't checked out Andy's recently launched podcast, Inspired Money, then I highly recommend it. I enjoy listening to it on my daily commute and I learn something new in every episode. This week he has a bonus episode with Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach. They go into some depth about the Equifax data breach and what she steps she is recommending to consumers. She also talks about some other credit monitoring resources.

Listen now:

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“Identity Theft Protection is Essential for Every International Real Estate Investor” by International Real Estate Listings is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0