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It turns out Equifax’s tidal wave of a security breach is more like a tsunami.

The credit reporting company had said 145.5 million Americans had their personal data --- including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses --- exposed and accessible to criminals in the hack announced last summer.

But now, documents submitted to the Senate Banking Committee indicate hackers also had access to at least some email addresses, tax ID numbers and driver’s license information.

Why is this a big deal?

Access to someone’s Social Security or Tax ID number, along with their address and other personally identifiable information, could be used to open new credit cards, bank accounts or other financial products fraudulently.

Essentially, the more information hackers have on you, the more likely they are to use that information for their own gain.

Identity theft is a hassle nobody wants to deal with. It can cost tremendous time and money to resolve, and it also can wreak havoc on your credit score.

In other words, if someone steals your identity and uses it to open new accounts, that could affect your ability to get a credit card, a mortgage or an auto loan.

What you should do

credit report
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Get free copies of your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies.

Stay vigilant when it comes to protecting your personal data. Checking your credit reports regularly is an easy way to catch mistakes on your credit reports before they start costing you money.

Or, get copies of your credit reports — you’re entitled to a free one every year from each of the three major credit bureaus — and scan them carefully for anything that looks suspicious.

Keep your credit on ice

If you haven’t already, freeze your credit with all three bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. A freeze means no one can open a new line of credit in your name, since the potential creditor won’t be able to run a check on you to see if you qualify.

It is now free to freeze your credit and it's easy and fast to freeze and unfreeze your credit.

If you know a credit check will be necessary for a transaction — if, for example, you’re looking to refinance your mortgage or get a new lease for your car — you can temporarily lift your credit freeze and then freeze again.

Freezes and lifts can be set up online and take just a few minutes. The peace of mind is worth it!