You may have heard or read that cyber crime events have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. While that may be the case, we see this recent uptick in press coverage of cyber crime and financial fraud as just an evolution of an already-present trend. You may have friends or family who have been the victims or attempted victims of financial fraud, or you may have experienced such an event yourself. Unfortunately, criminals are oftentimes able to stay one step ahead of the systems and processes designed to protect us. For this reason, we have assembled this short list of some of the most important things you can do to protect yourself.
1. Watch keenly for attempted phishing attacks
We encourage all of our clients to remain vigilant whenever interacting with computers and mobile devices, or if ever receiving a phone call from someone claiming to be calling from one of the financial institutions you do business with. A best practice is to assume that every email is a phishing attempt until proven otherwise. Additional tips can be found here.
2. Set up additional security with financial institutions
Additionally, we recommend that all of our clients take a few minutes to call Schwab Alliance at 800-515-2157 and set up an additional layer of security, called a Verbal Password, in order to help protect your accounts.
- This password can be your choice, but must adhere to Schwab's parameters regarding length, characters used, etc.
- It is highly recommended that you choose a password that could not be guessed based on access to your email, social media, public records, or any other source of information, whether public or private.
- You will need to repeat this verbal password when calling Schwab Alliance in the future.
- You should save this verbal password in a secure location, and consider uploading it to the My Documents folder of your WMS vault. If you do so, ensure that your WMS password is unique and complex.
- If a fraudster calls Schwab and attempts to impersonate you, the verbal password is required. If the verbal password is not provided, the Schwab representative is prohibited from authenticating the caller.
- If you forget your verbal password, you will need to either obtain a notarized form confirming your identity or show your photo ID at a Schwab branch before Schwab will speak with you about your accounts or take any action, such as transferring funds. Schwab does not provide hints or clues to help you remember your verbal password.
- Verbal password is more secure than Schwab's Voice ID described below (assuming your verbal password is complex and unique), but may be less convenient than Voice ID if you forget your verbal password, especially if you need to accomplish something time-sensitive with Schwab.
Schwab also offers a less-secure option than Verbal Password called Voice ID:
- When prompted, you will record "At Schwab, my voice is my password" three times in order to provide an audio "fingerprint" of your voice, which will be used to authenticate your identity if calling Schwab in the future.
- Once you have set this up on the phone, you will need to check your email and follow the link from Schwab to complete the process.
- If a fraudster calls Schwab and attempts to impersonate your voice but fails to authenticate, the Schwab representative is allowed to ask identity-check questions to attempt to authenticate the caller which could grant the fraudster access.
- This option is less secure than the verbal password, especially if your email or other accounts have already been compromised, since the fraudster may be able to collect the necessary information to correctly answer the authentication questions. However, enabling Voice ID can provide some additional security.
3. Obtain credit reports, and keep them frozen whenever possibleNormally, the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) allow you to obtain your credit report once per year for free. However, you can currently obtain each report once per week for free until April 2021. You can do so at annualcreditreport.com.
While it may not be necessary to download your credit reports with that frequency (since Credit Karma provides a similar service in a more streamlined way, including an app for convenience), it could be worthwhile to obtain them now and at some regular interval for yourself and others in your household to make sure there are no errors or potential fraudulent activity.
This is especially true if you haven't frozen your credit. SFP recommends freezing your credit and you can follow the links below to do so. Be sure to unfreeze them as necessary when authorized access to your credit is needed (remember to re-freeze them once the credit check is complete, or use the date parameters available when unfreezing).
- ChexSystems (used by some banks when opening checking and savings accounts)
While cyber crime can happen to anyone, taking the steps outlined above could protect you from financial loss due to fraud, or at the very least could prevent you from having to take the time to clean up after a thwarted fraud attempt. Schwab also offers their 100% Security Guarantee, which you can read more about here.
If you have any questions or if we can help in any way, please reach out to us via email or phone (972-403-1234).