Give the recent Equifax data breach, we wanted to give our readers a brief overview of what steps to start taking to protect their identity and credit information. The data breach may potentially impact 143 million U.S. consumers. The information accessed includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and drivers license numbers.

Equifax set up a dedicated site with details on the incident at To find out if you were one of the millions affected, click on the Potential Impact link in the top navigation.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that millions of Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft. The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a cell phone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make-or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.

Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.

Many people don’t realize they are victims of identity theft until long after the initial crime occurred. To stop the crimes as soon as possible make sure you carefully check your credit reports regularly. Contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies to order a copy of your credit report at least once each year. Consider canceling credit cards you haven’t used in a long time. You can also consider adding a “fraud alert” to make it harder for thieves to open new accounts without your knowledge. With a fraud alert, the credit agency has to call you to confirm any request it receives to open a new account in your name. If you decide you want this service, just contact the credit reporting agencies. You can also consider freezing your credit so new lenders cannot access your reports, making it less likely new lines of credit are opened.

The following is contact information for all three credit reporting bureaus.

Equifax PO Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374 888-766-0008

Experian PO Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013 888-397-3742

TransUnion PO Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016 800-680-7289