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Equifax's website said "System Currently Unavailable - Error 500" and suggested consumers try contacting the other credit bureaus.

Experian's website simply says, "Loading". This means you can not apply for new credit without lifting the freeze.

Equifax estimates that 143 million people have been impacted, about half of the U.S. To put that in perspective, more than a quarter of North Dakotan's information may have been exposed in the breach, according to the North Dakota Attorney General. (Equifax announced on September 12 that it will no longer charge $10 for a security freeze.) A credit freeze prevents lenders and others from accessing your credit information, making it much harder for someone to open a new account of any kind in your name only your current creditors will be able to access your credit report.

Morley added that Canadians who live and work south of the border would have their credit history pulled in Canada in various situations, including when applying for a credit card, or even by a potential employer or landlord.

Here's what you should know, and what actions you can take next. Having spent years since then polishing her score to a sterling "high 800's", she's eager to avoid a repeat.

From secure web design and development to network security monitoring and comprehensive managed services, eMazzanti Technologies customizes data security solutions to meet your business needs. That scam can take months to figure out.

A credit freeze, which is also called a security freeze, locks down your credit and can only be lifted with a personal identification number (PIN) that you receive when you enroll. There wasn't much of a financial cost; my credit card company quickly negated the charges, but it was a massive waste of time. Instead, it will remained assigned to you and be linked to the new one.

The very nature of a credit-scoring business, which collects data on people from a wide range of sources, makes it hard to assess just how many United Kingdom citizens could have data stored on Equifax's servers.

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to provide you with a free annual credit report. As part of your investigations, we request that you conduct a thorough examination of any unusual trading, including any atypical options trading, for violations of insider trading law. Several readers said they received error messages there, too, when they tried to get a copy of their report. Others said the automated freezing line wasn't working.

The reporting agencies tell you that this may delay a legitimate credit request.

That would generate a US credit file for the consumer, he said. It's best to ask the creditor which credit bureau it uses and thaw only that one. Details include Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver's license numbers.

But privacy experts say there's nothing unsafe about using the mail.

The National Retail Federation is once again making the case for a new federal law on data breach notifications.

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion did not answer emailed questions from NBC News.

So far, Equifax seems to be trying to downplay the seriousness of this issue - it has not said anything about the systemic risk this breach might have for the financial industry. Smith said the company first learned of the breach on July 29 but waited six weeks to make it public because "we thought the intrusion was limited".

Cyber-crime blogger Brian Krebs said that an online employee tool used in the country could be accessed by typing "admin" as both a login and password.

Chances are that Equifax will get slapped with a fine, suffer an executive suite shake-up and be pressured by its corporate customers to beef up its security and systems.