After the Equifax breach, this is how many people have checked their credit

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If the massive data breach at credit reporting company Equifax EFX, +1.15%   didn’t scare you into checking your credit, you aren’t alone. And if you haven’t even heard of the Equifax fiasco — which could have exposed more than 143 million Americans’ personal information to criminals — you’ve got company too.

Despite dire warnings from security experts, only about a quarter of the U.S. adult population checked their credit score or credit report in the first two weeks after the breach, according to a new survey from the credit website CreditCards.com, which asked 1,000 U.S. adults about their credit habits between Sept. 21 and Sept. 24.

Equifax announced the breach Sept. 7, and said hackers had access to Americans’ personal data in its system continuously mid-May to July of 2017. Experts recommended that all adults check their credit reports and scores to be sure no fraudsters had used their personal information to open lines of credit in their names. They also recommended that consumers “freeze” their credit, to prevent fraudsters from opening new lines of credit.

But CreditCards.com found that many consumers didn’t take that advice. Some 30% of those surveyed said they hadn’t heard anything about the data breach. Younger consumers, those between 18 and 26, were the least likely to know about it; about half of those in that age demographic are unaware of the breach, the survey found.

It’s still possible more consumers have taken action since those first two weeks after the Equifax news broke, said Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “This breach touches everybody, and even though a lot of people took action because of this news, we really need to see even more do so.”

A survey from credit-card comparison website CompareCards.com found similar results: About 25% of consumers have set up spending alerts on their credit or debit cards in the wake of the breach, the company found in a survey of 1,000 people from Sept. 22 to Sept. 25. And 78% of consumers still haven’t put a credit freeze on their accounts.

Because of the risks involved, from fraudsters opening lines of credit or even committing crimes in identity-theft victims’ names, consumers should “go ahead and take some action,” and at minimum check credit reports and scores frequently, Schulz said. “People need to build credit checks into their regular financial routine,” he said.

Consumers can get one free version of their credit reports every year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and can check a version of their score through free websites and apps including Credit Karma and Clarity Money. Some banks and credit-card issuers also offer credit monitoring services for free.