Start with these five steps to help you build a game plan for fraud awareness and prevention.
When clients suspect they’ve become victims of fraud, Lucy Sims, senior wealth management banker for Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management, jumps into action to guide them through what to do. While happy to help, Sims prefers to help clients take an active role in identifying reg flags and taking steps to help financial fraud from happening in the first place.
Financial fraud is no small matter. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers lost more than $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021 — an increase of more than 70% from 2020. And more than $2.3 billion of those losses were due to imposter scams.1
Sims says that a few simple practices can both help deter fraudsters and identify fraud more quickly when it happens. Review the checklist below as a starting point to establishing your own fraud prevention plan.
Use multifactor authentication on your digital accounts
You get added protection when two or more credentials are required to log in to a banking, investing, shopping, social media, email, or message account. Multifactor authentication generally uses information from three possible categories — something you have (like your phone), something you know (like a password), and some biometric feature (like a fingerprint or facial recognition).
Think about two-factor authentication where one factor is stored on, connected to, or enabled by the device you use to log in. That extra step means the fraudster would need to have access both to your password and your device to gain admission. How it might work:
- When you sign on to your account, you enter your passcode/password.
- The system responds by sending a PIN to your mobile phone.
- You then enter the PIN where you’re trying to sign on, usually within a limited timespan.
Mind your passwords
Make your passwords unique and change them regularly, not just when prompted or you suspect your account has been compromised, Sims says. Some tech professionals recommend changing your password every 60 to 90 days, depending on how often the account is accessed and the strength of the passwords.
Cybercriminals also know that people often repeat passwords, so create new ones each time you change them — and use a different one for each account. Don’t use easy-to-guess passwords (like “BobsBankAccount”) or phrases based on dates or seasons, such as “Winter2020.”
Keeping track of unique and complex passwords can be daunting, so consider using a password manager. Sims recommends downloading an app, like Keeper or Norton Password Manager, to help manage and store passwords.
Keep your technology updated
From your smartphone to your laptop, keeping your web browsers and software up to date makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your accounts. It’s easy to forget or put off updates, but it’s important not to, because you’ll be missing out on protection for yourself, your finances, and your identity. In doing so, you gain the latest in features and functionality, as well as security fixes to help keep you and your information safe. Tip: You can set your computer and other devices to update software automatically.
Don’t be too responsive
It’s so easy to automatically open an email, respond to a text, or answer a call. But if the text or email is from an unknown or unfamiliar sender or contains a link, be suspicious and trust your instincts. Sims says that her clients who are more focused on fraud prevention often contact her to verify that someone from her office is actually trying to reach them.
“You learn over time that you, unfortunately, have to question everything,” she says.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to the larger institutions separately, rather than using the quick reply links you may have received in an email or text message claiming to be from them. If they’re the trusted organizations you want, they won’t mind taking the time to help you confirm information for the sake of security.
Pressure to act or make decisions quickly is a warning sign of a scam. Slow down and watch out if you encounter any special offer, sweepstakes prize, or demand for information that can’t wait a day for you to reply.
Review your accounts on a regular basis
Keep track of your expenditures, and also check account balances weekly and review statements monthly for suspicious withdrawals or charges. In addition, check your balances by phone or online before making a major payment or withdrawal; consider signing up for automatic alerts for transactions over a certain amount, or to be alerted whenever your credit score is accessed.
Sims also checks her credit report annually. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you can get a free credit report annually from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Request a copy from AnnualCreditReport.com.
At times, Sims has also implemented a credit freeze to restrict access to her credit report. You can implement a credit freeze at any time to prevent fraud or to protect your information following a data breach. Parents also may place a freeze on their children’s credit report to help prevent their information from being used by fraudsters.
No one can open a new credit account with your information while the freeze is in place. You can still apply for a job or buy insurance, and you can temporarily lift the freeze to apply for new credit. The credit freeze lasts until you lift it, and it does not impact your credit score.
To be effective, you should place a freeze with each of the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
Be vigilant and persistent
Many of these precautions may require a little extra time, but Sims says following a fraud prevention checklist like this can go a long way toward helping to keep your finances safe.
“It’s like muscle memory,” she says. “Over time, you just start to learn and question everything. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”