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The Equifax Hack and What to Do

| September 20, 2017
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Credit agency Equifax announced that it suffered a data breach affecting 143 million U.S. consumers.

The hack exposed names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers—all critical pieces of information used by identity thieves to impersonate people and conduct fraud.

This is probably the most consequential data breach in history, considering that nearly all U.S. adults have their credit histories on file with Equifax and the other two credit bureaus, Experian and Transunion.

While it’s true that for some time that the public’s personal information has been available for sale in the black market, no data breach as comprehensive as this one has ever occurred.

That’s why it’s critical that you take significant steps to protect yourselves—steps that exceed the weak response Equifax is recommending now.

Here’s what you need to do immediately to safeguard your information.

Freeze your credit

If you have not done so already, it is imperative that you freeze your credit immediately at each of the three credit bureaus.

A security freeze, also called a credit freeze, locks your credit file at each bureau with a special PIN that only you know. That PIN must be used in order for anyone to access your credit file, or add new credit in your name.

(Note: As of now, Equifax does not believe that security PINs were accessed by hackers. If you had a security freeze in place at Equifax before the hack your PIN should still be protected. But that could change.)

Credit bureaus rarely emphasize freezing your credit file because it’s not in their best interest, or their clients—banks and other companies that grant credit. Instead, they recommend “credit monitoring,” a largely useless and ineffective service that charges you money to tell you when your open, or unfrozen, credit file has been accessed.

In essence, they tell you that you may have a credit breach problem AFTER the fact, which isn’t protection against identity theft. The same is true for LifeLock, a company that has been repeatedly fined by the government for unfair and deceptive trade practices. We don’t recommend anyone use LifeLock.

A security freeze gives you complete control of your credit file. Unlike credit monitoring or fraud alerts, a security freeze stops an identity theft from happening rather than alerting you to potential fraud after it has happened.

How to do it

To set up a security freeze you must contact all three of the credit bureaus individually. This process can be done online or over the phone. You will be asked some questions to confirm your identity but it only takes a few minutes.

We recommend beginning with Experian and Transunion as Equifax’s website is currently receiving high traffic.

You can freeze your credit by using the following phone numbers and links:

Depending on your state, freezing your credit can cost anywhere from $0 to $10 at each bureau. Proven identity theft victims can have this fee waived. (If you need to lift the freeze you will have to pay the same fee.)

To lift your freeze you simply contact the bureau used by the lender and provide your PIN to lift the freeze for a certain period of time. This can be done online or over the phone. It may take a few days for the freeze to be lifted so be sure to do it a few days in advance.

Was I affected?

You can see if you were a victim of Equifax’s hack by visiting equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ and entering your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number. You can also wait to receive a letter from Equifax.

Regardless, take this time to freeze your credit. Given the sheer volume of breaches in the past few years, it is likely your information has already been exposed. Freezing your credit will give you peace of mind and is a crucial step in protecting your identity from hackers.

If you have more questions or concerns regarding this issue, we are here to help. Please reach out to us and we will do our best to address your personal questions.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES:

Registered Representatives may not be registered to offer securities and advisory services in all states. Securities and investment advisory services offered through FSC Securities Corporation, memberFINRA/SIPC and a SEC registered investment adviser.  Csenge Advisory Group, a registered investment advisor, is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corporation or registered as a broker-dealer.  Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. This communication is strictly intended for individuals residing in the state(s) of PA. No offers may be made or accepted from any resident outside the specific states referenced. These views are those of Horsesmouth, LLC, and not the presenting Representative or the Representative’s Broker/Dealer, and should not be construed as investment advice. This newsletter was prepared by Horsesmouth, LLC. Horsesmouth, LLC is not affiliated with the named broker/dealer. Because of their narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal. You cannot invest directly in an index. Consult your financial professional before making any investment decision. Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

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