On Sept. 2, I received an email at my personal Gmail account from our long anticipated 2017-2018 foreign exchange student from Spain. The email from the young lady, which I viewed on my phone, said she would be flying in from Madrid on Labor Day. She also provided her flight information so we could pick her up at O'Hare.

Being an obsessive Dad, I needed to understand the challenges we could run into with this plan. How far was Madrid from our student’s small town? What was the weather expected to be, could she get delayed?  

So I decided to do a little research. I typed “Madrid” into Google on our home computer. The first search result that came up was the flight status of our student’s flight. Gmail had monitored my email, and projected the information contained in her particular email onto my search results in Google, and it had done it across two different devices. Creepy.

My point? We now live in a highly monitored electronic world. While we all kind of intuitively know this, until we are confronted with something like my creepy Google search results, do we realize just how personal this reality can be.

Enter the Equifax data breach. On Sept. 8, the mega “data broker” company announced its databases had been hacked, and that between May and July of this year 143 million Americans had the most personal information such as Social Security number, date of birth, name, address, and in some cases drivers license numbers and even credit card numbers exposed to these hackers. 

The first press releases on this breach seemed kind of benign. As more information has been released and clarified, however, it can only be concluded that this is a very serious potential disaster for many Americans.

Of course everyone should take Equifax up on its offer to provide free credit monitoring and identity protection insurance. The offer is good for a year, and is a solid first response.  

Those who find this issue particularly stressful should also consider putting a credit freeze on their credit file. This process locks the credit file from being accessed, and prevents new accounts from being established with your social security number.

A word to the wise however, I, and many of my clients who have put a credit freeze in place have found the process itself very cumbersome. If you decided to take this more aggressive step it is extremely important that you not lose your PIN number.

More importantly however, let's use this data breach as a wake up call.   Everything we do in both the online and real world is being watched and stored by companies that do not view us customers, but rather as what our personal information means to them. We are their products.

The best way to manage this new reality is through awareness. I personally pay for credit monitoring service I find very effective. It's pretty slick when I’m at Macy’s and decide to open a credit card and the app on my phone alerts me in real time that my information is being pulled. If you shoot me an email, I can let you know more.

Beyond simply monitoring the system however, perhaps it's time to start managing the information that gets onto it and demanding accountability from the companies that aggregate it. 

This Equifax breach has me steaming, I’ve already signed up for their credit monitoring, and it won’t be the last time we discuss it in this column.

Opinions are solely the writer's. Marc Ruiz is a wealth adviser with Oak Partners and a registered representative of Sll investments, member FINRA/SIPC. Oak Partners and Sll are separate companies. Contact Marc at marc.ruiz@oakpartners.com.

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