Winning a Kewpie Doll

When I was growing up, our family spent many summers in North Wildwood, NJ.  At first, it was one or two weeks a year, until we decided to rent a place for the entire summer.  All of us got jobs to pitch in.  My first job was setting up all the beach supplies at a beach store every day.  While not full-time residents, the length of time we spent there made us feel like locals.

Our free time was spent at the beach and the boardwalk.  On the boardwalk were a variety of games that offered prizes including kewpie dolls.  The game owners offered these because they had little value, but they knew that winning anything made tourists return again and again.  Much more was spent in pursuit of a prize than what it cost to make it.

The other factor is that almost all the games were rigged.  The ring toss, dart throw, basketball shot, all rigged in favor of the owner.  Of course, some people were allowed to win to make others think it was possible to get that big stuffed bear. Either a plant would swoop in and get the big prize, or they would allow an actual tourist win.

After trying numerous times, it dawned on us that it was not worth the wasted money and so we pursued other entertainment.  Today, there are rigged “games” all over the internet.  They range from innocuous click-bait headlines to more sinister scams like identify theft.  In this posting, we will review some of the bigger threats and how to keep yourself save.

The largest concern is identity theft.  With about 5 pieces of personal data, a criminal can wreck you financially.  So how do you protect yourself? Here are 5 steps to secure your online information:

  1. Freeze your credit – Contact each of the credit bureaus. There are four: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and a much lesser known one Innovis.  Each has online capability to freeze your credit reporting. The service should be free of charge.  Be prepared to answer questions that would establish your identity like current principal left on your mortgage, past addresses, etc.  If you intend to seek a new loan or credit card, you will have to unfreeze your credit.  This can be done for a limited time frame before the freeze is reinstituted.
  2. Change your passwords – If you are like most people, you use one password for multiple accounts and websites. This is a security no-no.  One solution is to use a password management software.  There are a number to choose from, here is a list of top ranked ones: https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-password-managers
  3. Beware attachments — Never open an email attachment from an unknown source. Also, be suspicious of an unexpected attachment from a familiar source. If you hover over their email, you may discover it is a fake.  If it is a legitimate email, contact them to confirm they sent the attachment.  Clicking on the attachment can install malicious software on your computer (malware) that collects all your personal data.
  4. Use two-factor authentication – More websites are implementing two-factor authentication, especially financial institutions. If it is offered, you should accept it.  It is one the strongest security measures one can undertake.
  5. Don’t be credulous – The upside to the internet is the amazing ability to speed through tasks like never before. The downside is the same thing.  If something does not seem right, go with your gut. Be a bit of sceptic.  Everyone knows not to reply to the Nigerian princes by now, but somehow, they still click on unknown attachments in a work email exposing a whole office.

For a deeper dive into cyber-crimes and more suggestion, read more in this posting from the FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber

Taking some proactive steps may save you from significant financial loss.  It may also save you from all the time and energy expended cleaning up the mess that these criminals cause.

Using an independent registered investment advisor is like two-factor authentication.  Your assets are custodied at a third-party custodian.  For instance, our clients are custodied at Schwab.  If I tried to withdraw funds from a clients account, I would be reported to the authorities.  That is good security for our clients.

If you would like to learn how an independent, fee only advisor and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional can help you, please contact me.  Feel free to share with others and make suggestions for future articles: peter.oneill@fiduciamwealth.com