Equifax Data Breach: What you Need to Know

If you have read the newspaper or had any news channel on today, you have undoubtedly read about the data breach at Equifax, one of the nation's three largest credit reporting agencies. 

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The breach, which actually occurred in late July 2017, is believed to have impacted 143 million Americans and is reported to have included significant amounts of public information, including names, social security numbers, driver license numbers, credit card numbers, and addresses.  Both the scope and scale of the information stolen makes this data breach significantly more alarming than others in recent months (Target, Yahoo, etc).

After reading the news and discovering that my information was likely part of the breach (you can check your own at Equifax's response sight here), I felt it was worth sharing some steps that can be taken to monitor and address the potential risks from this breach, as well as to keep your information secure online going forward.

1.) Consider Taking Equifax up on their offer

In response to this breach, Equifax is rightfully offering their credit reporting services (TrustedID Preimier) to customers for a year.  This includes a full credit report and ongoing monitoring.  You can enroll at the response site here.  Note that the fine print says you will agree to arbitration for any legal issues and not participate in any class action lawsuits, so please remain aware of those legal factors as you evaluate this offer

2.) Review and monitor your credit reports

The main risk with this breach is that your personal data will be used to obtain credit/loans in your name.  In order to monitor for this risk, you can request your credit report.  (Please note this has always been a "best practice" - not just one to use in response to this breach).  Annualcreditreport.com provides you FREE access to your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once per year. Since it's only an annual offering, consider whether you wish to obtain all three today, or if you prefer to spread them out for ongoing monitoring

There are other paid services (such as IdentityForceLifeLock and IDShield) that tend to monitor at a more detailed and expansive level than the credit reporting agencies.  There is a cost for these services however, so it is up to you to evaluate the cost/benefit

3.) Consider a Freeze

You have the ability to freeze your own credit.  This stops anyone (including you) from getting new forms of credit, until you remove the freeze.  This does come with a cost, both to add the freeze and to remove it - a fee charged by each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  Here's an article that discusses freezes in more detail

4.) Monitor your credit score

Many credit card companies now offer you your FICO score every time you log in (and some also offer credit monitoring).  Review your credit card company's website or give customer service a call and watch for any negative movements that could indicate suspicious activity

5.) Passwords

As always, passwords remain a huge source of exposure to your personal information.  We all know that we should have nonsensical/long/hard to guess passwords and that they should not be repeated in more than one place.  But some of that is hard to execute upon.  There are some smart options (like password managers and two-step verification) that can help keep log-ins more secure.  We will have much more on these topics in our upcoming quarterly newsletter.

 

We know this is a scary and unsettling topic and one that leaves us all  wondering "what else do I possible have to worry about."  All we can say is that we are in this together and are here to help you in any way we can.  Stay safe out there and please reach out if we can be of assistance.

 

 

View from the Chair: Windermere's Market Perspectives (September 2017)

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September.  No matter how old I get, I always associate this time of year with "back to school." A start of a new year of learning and new challenges.  A time to embrace new ideas and adjust your old routines and habits.  A chance to reflect on what you know and what you may not have fully understood in the past.  

I realize the majority of us are no longer going "back to school" ourselves, but what if we apply some of those same learnings and rituals to investing?  Why not.  Sharpen your pencils, take your seats, and let's get started.

1.) Focus on the high-level goal

School years were always easier for me when I could focus on a high-level goal.  Same goes for investing.  Take a minute to put aside all the "noise" and complex language that accompanies investing and try to focus on why you started.  What are you trying to achieve?  Is it saving for retirement, providing for your children's education, starting a new business, securing a safety net for the future, or some combination of the above?  Try to be a specific as possible.  For this year, I encourage you to work hard to define your higher-level goal (we are happy to assist in that discovery as well). And then communicate that to us as clearly as possible.  Once armed with your high-level goal, we can more precisely channel the details of your investment approach.

2.) Study and do your homework

Managing your money and pursuing your goals is not a passive activity.  It cannot be reduced to a few soundbites you hear on CNBC or one article you read in the Wall Street Journal or a comment you overhear at a cocktail party.  It is a comprehensive and ongoing homework exercise that requires you to pay careful attention to all sources of information AND to efficiently and accurately funnel out what truly matters.  To help you in this effort, we will begin to summarize key data points we pay attention to and share those with you as we meet.   It's our job to monitor and make portfolios moves on your behalf - put it remains important that you too understand what's happening with your wealth and avoid taking action on data that may be leading you in the wrong direction

3.) Be comfortable being an outlier

Just like when we were in school, it is considerably easier to be a part of the "in crowd" - to blend in instead of standing out.  Same goes for investing.  We are psychologically wired to move with the crowd - buying when everyone seems to be buying and markets are going up, and running for the exits at the same time as everyone else.  Fight to stay true to your convictions and your goals.  It matters what you are doing and why you are doing it - not what the person next to you is doing.  As Warren Buffett says, "be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful"

4.) Take advantage of office hours

I was a teaching assistant for Accounting 101 while at UW Madison, and I never could understand why more students didn't come to office hours.  Why not seek out the customized instruction and advice?  How could you not benefit from someone explaining a topic to you in your language and at your level?  Same goes for investing and your wealth journey.  We are here to manage your portfolios but also to help you pass this course called investing with flying colors.  So please know, our doors are always open!

 

Welcome back to school, everyone!  We look forward to another great year and achieving continued success - together.

Invest on,

Pam