Equifax announced last week that sensitive information belonging to some 143 million Americans may be exposed after a massive data breach.
Millions of names, addresses, birth dates, social security numbers, and credit card numbers have been compromised. Even if you have not dealt with Equifax directly, officials say their servers could still be linked to other credit reporting agencies.
Channel 3 spoke with a local financial coach about how to protect yourself.
"The first step is to pull your credit and see if something happened," said Ivelisse Perez, financial coach with Operation Hope.
Financial coach Ivelisse Perez says you should get a copy of your credit report, then another copy within 1-3 months.
You can get a free credit report by checking Annual Credit Report or by stopping in at Operation Hope, a non-profit working to educate and strengthen families in under-served communities. Advisors with Operation Hope offer free credit and money management counseling.
"People are concerned about this," said Perez. "They don't really understand what's happening so the first thing I'm going to tell you and that everyone needs to know is that no one is going to reach you from Equifax. If you receive a call asking for information, to give your credit card number, or something like that don't do it because they're not going to contact you."
Perez says you should watch your mail for anything suspicious and check your bank accounts weekly for fraudulent activity. If your credit rating drops, it can take a long time to get it back into good standing.
"You need to have good credit for everything you do, to rent an apartment, to buy a house, to any utility bills on your house," said Perez. " Now they pull your credit for a job, so it's very important that you keep it in good standing."
Equifax has set up an online registry, where you can check accounts by using your last name and last 6 digits of your social security number.
Company officials have since updated the Equifax website to read, " We've added a FAQ to our website to confirm that enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that we are offering does not waive any rights to take legal action. "
Perez says to be on the safe side, people can also consider a security freeze on all of their accounts.
"The way this works is you can put a freeze for 90 days so no one can pull your credit and if you need to access your credit, you need to call back and ask them to unfreeze your account," said Perez.
If you notice anything wrong on your credit report, file a dispute immediately.
"If there is any information that is not yours, that is wrong, we can help you dispute and we can also teach you how to do it," said Perez.
Financial counselors with Operation Hope will host a community workshop on Saturday, September 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the First Tennessee Bank in East Ridge located at 5401 Ringgold Road.
Topics at the free workshop include: establishing or increasing your credit score, creating a budget, how to read a credit report and what can be done to correct errors.
To find out more information about Operation Hope, call Ivelisse Perez at 423-320-6523 or send an email.
Equifax released the following statement in response to the massive breach of personal information:
"We are committed to keeping consumers updated on the steps we are taking to provide them with the support they need and address any issues they are facing in response to this incident. "
The company has set up a new hotline number for customers with questions and concerns. That number is 866-447-7559.