This month, consumers impacted by the massive 2017 Equifax data breach finally began receiving their access codes for four free years of credit monitoring.
The free service is offered through Experian, one of the nation's three largest credit reporting firms. If you were one of the 147 million people affected by the 2017 breach and filed a claim, you should be sure to activate your code.
Credit monitoring services can't protect against your leaked data being used against you, but they can automatically alert you to any changes to your personal information or credit inquiries made in your name.
Though she normally tells clients that they shouldn't pay for monitoring services because they can check their credit for free, Financial Gym CEO Shannon McLay says that anyone eligible for the four free years of monitoring should take it.
"There's been enough data breaches on sites at this point that you should assume that your personal and private information is out there for somebody to use against you," she says. "You should definitely be vigilant about your credit report and your credit score."
If your data was breached, the consequences could range anywhere from receiving a large number of spam phone calls to bad actors using your personal information to sign up for new credit cards. Using a monitoring service can help you make sure that you don't miss any deadlines to defend against any changes to your score.
"You don't want to miss the window of time where you can prove you're not the person who opened up the credit card or things like that," she says.
On top of that, monitoring your credit can be a "huge time saver" because it can help you catch fraud before it becomes a larger problem, McLay says.
If you didn't file a claim for free credit monitoring, you can still safeguard your credit by regularly checking your report. McLay recommends that consumers get in the habit of checking their credit at least once a quarter, if not monthly, to catch any hits on their credit. It can be helpful to set a calendar reminder to make sure you don't forget.
"The biggest thing I tell people is it literally takes you five minutes a month to scan and check and make sure everything's OK," she says. "If somebody has stolen your credit and opens up various accounts in your name and runs up charges, that could take hundreds of hours of your time to resolve."
Consumers who signed up for the service as a part of the 2017 settlement should receive their information by Feb. 25 in the form of an email from the Equifax Breach Settlement Administrator or in a mailed letter, along with instructions on how to sign up, CNBC reported.
Once you receive your authorization code, you can sign up through the Experian IdentityWorks website or call (877) 251-5822.