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Equifax security breach tips

INFO SECURITY ALERT: Equifax Breach Affects 143 Million Consumers

INFO SECURITY ALERT: Equifax Breach Affects 143 Million Consumers

By Matthew Lang, Lang Investment Services.  Monument, CO 719-481-0887

Last week, news broke that Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus, suffered a massive database breach. It’s estimated that the information of 143 million consumers was compromised, including:

  • Social security numbers
  • Dates of birth
  • Addresses
  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Credit card information (for approximately 209,000 consumers)

The good news is that many Equifax executives sold their stock shares after they knew what happened, but before the public knew…..whew….now we can all rest easy knowing they won’t miss the loan payments on their yachts.  However, for the rest of us who may be negatively affected by having some of our most valuable information exposed, here are some steps to take to protect your personal info.

Due to the high potential impact of this breach, I recommend taking the following steps:

 1) Determine whether you may have been affected. Through the Equifax self-service portal, you can quickly determine whether your information may have been compromised. Enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number, and you’ll find out whether Equifax believes you’ve been affected. This process takes only a couple of minutes.

2) Enroll in Equifax’s credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Equifax is now offering one free year of TrustedID Premier, its credit monitoring and identity theft protection product, to all U.S. consumers, even if you aren’t a victim.

Once you enter your information in Equifax’s self-service portal, you’ll be given the option to enroll in TrustedID Premier. Click Enroll, and you’ll be provided with an enrollment date. Be sure to write down this date and return to the site on or after that date.

For more information, visit the Equifax FAQs page regarding the incident.

3) Be wary of e-mails that come from Equifax. Because of the high number of victims, Equifax is notifying only the 209,000 consumers whose credit card information may have been affected via postal mail. Do not trust e-mails that appear to come from Equifax regarding the breach. Attackers are likely to take advantage of the situation and craft sophisticated phishing e-mails.

4) Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. Equifax’s free TrustedID Premier service can help you monitor your credit—but be sure to monitor your other important accounts for any suspicious activity.

5) Go to the other credit companies, Transunion and Experian, and initiate a credit freeze.  You will need to unfreeze your credit when you apply for loans, but as long as you keep track of the PIN it is easy to unfreeze and refreeze your credit when needed.

6) Get a copy of your credit report.  Most states require the credit agencies to offer a free copy of your credit report at least once a year.  I would suggest getting a copy of and checking for accounts you don’t recognize.

 We all know that hackers are always working the online world trying to steal your data.  Identify theft is rampant all over the world.  No matter what we do, most of us will at some time be exposed to a data breach, but all we can do is try to protect ourselves.  Equifax is not the first or the last company which will be hacked, heck, even the IRS was compromised a couple years ago.  I hope no one has negative repercussions from this event, but if any of us do, then we can just take it one step at a time.

 

Matthew Lang is a financial advisor located at 236 N Washington St, Monument, CO 80132. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 719-481-0887 or at matt@langinvestmentservices.com.

 

Investing during troubled times

Investing in Troubled Times: Navigating North Korea, Harvey, and Irma

Presented by Matthew Lang, Lang Investment Services.  Monument, CO.  Serving Investors for 19 years.

The past few weeks have been unusually turbulent. North Korea has tested what is reportedly a hydrogen bomb and launched a missile over Japan; as a result, the U.S. is openly considering war. Hurricane Harvey has been the most damaging storm ever, devastating both Texas and Louisiana. And now we have Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm in history, approaching Florida. Given these events, there are certain questions that investors should be asking themselves. That is, should we be doing something different? If so, what?

Indeed, these questions do require a response. What that response should be, however, depends on an analysis of what has actually changed in the economy and financial markets as a result of these events. So, to decide what we should be doing, let’s take a look at what those changes have been.

Has there been meaningful change?

Despite recent events, the situation with North Korea has been ongoing for decades—this is just the most recent phase. What has actually changed is not that major. A bigger bomb and somewhat better missiles do not put the U.S. at direct risk. In many ways, and regardless of media coverage, this is just a continuation of where we have been for some time.

As far as hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there certainly have been consequential effects on people’s lives. Bigger picture, though, major storms are a regular feature of American history (just think of Sandy and Katrina). Despite the damage they cause, they do not change the economy in a meaningful way. So as bad as Harvey was, and as bad as Irma may be, at the national level they should not result in significant changes.

And how did the markets—which respond to economic forces rather than human tragedy—react to the North Korean situation and the storms? Just as you might expect, they remained steady. In fact, U.S. markets remain close to their all-time highs, supported by strong economic and earnings growth.

What does the past tell us about the future?

To get an idea of whether the economy is likely to change going forward, we can look at the past to review how previous wars and storms have affected markets. Let’s start with wars.

A war with North Korea would be devastating for South Korea and Asia as a whole, but it would have limited effects here in the U.S. In the past, wars have typically resulted in initial declines in the markets. On average, however, markets were up just three months later. As for ongoing effects on the economy, war has typically boosted economic growth, largely due to increased government spending. We certainly can’t rule out a worse experience this time. But history suggests that, as investors, we have no need to panic just yet.

The same can be said for the effects of natural disasters. Of course, they will be devastating to local residents and economies—Houston will be years recovering from Harvey, as New Orleans was from Katrina. But at the national level, the effects are usually short lived, with an initial decrease in economic growth and employment due to the damage and disruption. This is usually followed by a recovery as the rebuilding process gets underway. In this case, the damage and the recovery period are likely to be longer than usual, with two of the worst storms in history hitting within days of each other. But the basic story should end up being the same. In fact, the recovery in Houston has already started as damage is assessed and repairs begun.

While every war and natural disaster is different, and tragic for those most directly affected, we as a country have gotten to be very good at picking up the pieces and moving on. Remember, the U.S. has actually been at war for more than a decade in Afghanistan, and the economy has continued to grow. Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina were devastating, but we moved on and recovered. As long as the base economy remains sound (which it is), the country and the financial markets remain well positioned to ride out the damage.

Should investors be worried?

I said at the start that recent events require a response, and they do. Please consider donating to the victims of the storms, and prepare yourself mentally for more worries from the North Korean situation. You should expect dramatic coverage of all this from the media. You should not, however, confuse emotional responses with what you should be doing with your investments.

Despite the very real problems created by the geopolitical situation and the hurricanes, the U.S. economy and financial markets remain in solid condition and are likely to stay that way. There will be a time and a reason for worrying about our investments. But what we have right now does not meet those conditions. Let’s respond in a way that addresses the real problem, rather than being tricked into doing something we will later regret.

Matthew Lang is a financial advisor located at 236 N Washington St, Monument, CO 80132. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 719-481-0887 or at matt@langinvestmentservices.com.

Authored by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CAIA, MAI, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network.

© 2017 Commonwealth Financial Network®

Distinguishing between signals and noise

Distinguishing Between Signals and Noise

I have written about this concept before, but given some conversations I’ve had recently, I think it’s a great time to revisit it. When trying to understand both what is happening and (ideally) what is going to happen, we need to be able to identify what is important—and what is not. In other words, what signals should we pay attention to—and what noise should we ignore?

Economic and market signals

There are several key indicators that investors need to pay attention to, in my opinion.

For the economy, what really matters are jobs, consumer and business confidence, and whether the Federal Reserve is stimulating. These are the real signals, which is why I track them every month, most recently on Tuesday. While you can learn from some of the other data, much of it is just noise.

For the markets, we need to understand when we’re heading toward a bear market. The important signals here are recession, oil prices, the Fed (again), and valuation levels. In this case, we also have to look at more immediate indicators, such as trend lines and changes in debt levels, but again this is what and why I track them monthly, most recently yesterday.

Putting the noise in perspective

When you focus on the signals—which helps you get the big picture right—you can keep the other data (i.e., the noise) in perspective. In a presentation I’ve been giving for some time, I point out that over the past several years, we have been worried about both a strong dollar and a weak dollar, a rising China and a collapsing China, high oil prices and low oil prices. In each case, if we looked at the longer-term data, there was nothing to worry about—and so it proved. While each of those trends was worth watching, they were not part of the core signal.

Today’s economic concerns are turmoil in Washington, DC, North Korea, and the Middle East. The second two speak for themselves; I am over 50 and can’t remember a time when we have not had problems with both North Korea and the Middle East. As for Washington, DC, the concerns may be real, but from an economic perspective, history suggests that they simply won’t matter that much.

Today’s worry points for the markets are the low level of the CBOE Volatility Index, occasional small dips, and the underperformance of individual companies. Each of these, for various reasons, simply has not been indicative of trouble in the face of the positive signals.

Keep calm and carry on

With strong job growth, high consumer and business confidence, and a Fed that’s still adding vodka to the punch bowl, the economy is likely to keep growing for some time. With improving corporate earnings, high investor confidence, and low interest rates, the market fundamentals remain sound—and so, very likely, will the markets.

That’s not to say this will always be the case. It won’t. Again, though, by identifying what matters—the signals as opposed to the noise—you will be better prepared to make the right decisions when the time comes, and not before.