Last week, Equifax—one of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies, reported that hackers stole personal data from an estimated 143 million Americans. The breach lasted from mid-May through July—the hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers.

Concerned yet? It can be an overwhelming thought that your information is in the hands of criminals looking to profit at your expense. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Determine if you were potentially impacted.
    1. Visit Equifax’s website to see if you have been impacted. Once you click this link, click on the tab that says “Potential Impact”. Follow the prompt and you will either get a message that says “we believe that your personal information was not impacted by this incident” or “we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.”
  2. What do you do next?
    1. Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—for free—by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts and activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft.
    2. Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely. Look for any charges that you don’t recognize—regardless of size.
    3. Consider implementing a credit freeze on your credit report. This will make it harder for someone to open a new account in your name—but, this will not prevent them from making charges to your existing accounts.
  3. What is a credit freeze?
    1. A credit freeze (or security freeze) lets you restrict access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
  4. Does a credit freeze affect your credit score?
    1. No.
  5. What if I want to open a new account; buy a car; apply for a job; rent an apartment?
    1. If you have implemented a credit freeze, any scenario where your credit would be run with your permission, you will need to lift the freeze temporarily—either for a specific time or a specific party.
    2. Does it cost anything to temporarily lift the credit freeze? Yes, the cost and lead times can vary—fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5-$10.
  6. How do I place a freeze on my credit reports?
    1. Call each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
      1. Equifax – 1-800-349-9960
      2. Experian – 1-888-397-3742
      3. TransUnion – 1-888-909-8872
    2. After making your request—each company will send you a confirmation letter containing a PIN (personal identification number). Keep the PIN in a safe place—you will need this when you want to lift the freeze.

Knowing that your information has been accessed by hackers can be overwhelming and nerve-racking. In an increasingly digital world, data breaches will continue—this is not the first and it will not be the last.

I called all three reporting companies this morning—it took me around 15 minutes to implement my credit freezes. To me, 15 minutes was worth the time to protect myself from hackers opening new accounts in my name, is it worth it to you?

Ethan Wade

Vice President - Financial Advisor

Email: ewade@brightonsecurities.com

Direct: 585.340.2227

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