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My New Year’s Resolution: Protection from Fraud

By Karen McMillan, CFP
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An ounce of prevention is preferable to the hours a cure could take.

Welcome to 2022!

I have always been keen to set New Year’s resolutions, but this year I am narrowing my usual long list down to one: to protect my name and accounts from cyber and credit fraud.  I invite you to join me in this if you haven’t done it already.

I have always felt that the worst risk is of someone using my information to open a credit card or take out a loan.  That is a crime that could potentially run for some time before my becoming aware of it, so preventing the use of my information is a priority for me. 

There are three national credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.  Each credit bureau offers a credit freeze or a fraud alert to be applied by creating an account with them.  Placing a credit freeze or a fraud alert does not affect your credit, and there is no fee associated with either option.  The account opening is a bit disconcerting as I had to provide my Social Security number, date of birth and address.  (I made sure that I was on a secure Wi-Fi/VPN service when I did this.)  I opted for the fraud alerts, and I added a reminder in my calendar to renew them next year when they expire.

The Credit Freeze is indefinite, and should you wish to apply for a new credit card, loan or mortgage you need to lift the freeze at the time of application. 

The Fraud Alert is for one year at a time, it requires lenders to phone you at a number you provide to verify your identity before processing credit applications made under your name.  

In addition to placing a credit freeze or fraud alert for yourself, you may wish to consider requesting a credit freeze for children 14 years old and over, and for any older family members.  

How to:

Experian, 1-866-617-1894,

From the first page under Consumer, then Credit Support, I found Fraud Alert. A form opened up for completion, the top half used for people who have a Report Number (I don’t have one), the bottom half of the report for use for folks without a Report Number.  

Transunion, 1-833-806-1627,

I found Fraud Alert on the website under Personal, then Products, then Free. 

Equifax, 1-888-378-4329,

I scrolled half-way down the website to Popular Personal Credit Services, and to Add or Manage a Fraud or Active Duty Alert.

It was relatively simple to add the fraud alerts.  The bureaus claim to be linked, but to be sure I set the fraud alert on each one directly. I feel better entering this year with that protection in place.  There is also the option to sign up for credit monitoring (nominal fee), and email notifications. 

Osborne Partners has noticed a significant uptick in fraudulent email attempts to access money from client accounts.  We have also noticed that the attempts are getting more sophisticated.  It used to be that the emails were filled with misspelled words and bad grammar, but now the quality has improved to the point that the email itself can appear to be quite legitimate. 

I can assure you that we never respond to an email request for money without verbal confirmation from you.  You may recall that you were asked to provide a secret security question and answer when you initially opened your account.  We use this when necessary to verify your identity.  If you are not sure what your security question and answer is, please ask us the next time we have a conversation. 

All major email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo, etc) have Multi-Factor Authorization (MFA), also known as Two Factor Authorization (2FA), options that you can add to your email accounts if you haven’t already.  Most bank, custodian, and brokerage accounts offer this security too.  Each step that makes it more difficult to compromise your identity or accounts adds a layer of safety.

Along with email fraud and identity theft, the criminals and fraudsters are adept at coming up with all types of ploys to make us click on websites that we shouldn’t or give information over the phone that ought to remain private.  Please remember to never answer personal questions on a phone call, and never click on anything in an email or text until you’re absolutely certain who sent it (even if it’s your “cell phone provider” sending you a text with a link to where you can get your “free gift” for paying your bill).

Please contact us as soon as possible if you ever experience any type of account compromise and we can help you through the different steps to report and resolve it. 

So, that’s it.  I may now tick off my New Year’s resolution as complete.  Golly, that is a first, and a terrific way to enter the year.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and fraudster-free 2022!

Karen McMillan, CFP

Karen is a Portfolio Counselor at OPCM with over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. She has a broad range of experience that includes working with clients on comprehensive financial planning, wealth management strategies, stock option strategies, tax planning, and insurance. Over her two decades she has not only become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner (2006), but has accumulated ten additional professional qualifications.
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