Kevin Greenard: Creating your baseline for financial fraud protection

Kevin Greenard

It goes without saying that we are all at risk in this electronic age of being exposed to financial fraud. Some people more so than others. In some situations, financial fraud starts by unknowingly providing your personal information. This can be done through telephone calls, text messages and emails.

Earlier this month, we wrote two articles that highlight how to deal with unknown calls and unsolicited emails. In addition to being prepared for these types of communications, we feel that our clients should also know how to monitor against financial fraud occurring from things outside of their control.

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For example, even if you do not own a computer, cell phone, or tablet, our personal information is stored by government agencies, businesses, and other entities. There are things you can do to help monitor and minimize your risk.

Creating a baseline

When you go for your first physical with a doctor, they may talk about creating a baseline. Establishing an initial baseline is important as each patient is different. By determining your normal weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., your doctor can assess your risk levels if you stray away from your baseline.

To establish your baseline, blood is often drawn, and tests are conducted. The results of these tests are then reviewed by the doctor to see if they are within acceptable ranges. Every examination after that can be compared to your baseline. After a few physicals, your doctor will be better able to assess your overall health risks and advise accordingly if things are changing or if there are concerns.

When it comes to financial fraud risk, it is also possible to create a baseline. For many people, the monitoring of financial fraud risk is something you must do yourself. Your banker, Wealth Advisor, Portfolio Manager, accountant, lawyer, etc., typically will not assist you with establishing your own baseline for financial fraud protection. This article will provide some guidance on the first step in creating your own financial fraud baseline.

Copies of your credit reports

There are two nationwide credit reporting agencies in Canada: Equifax Canada Co. (“Equifax”) and Trans Union of Canada, Inc. (“TransUnion”). We recommend that individuals concerned about financial fraud request their credit reports from both Equifax and TransUnion.

It is important to note that not all creditors report to both of these reporting agencies. While most creditors do report to both, you may find if you go through the exercise of requesting these free reports that you will find differences, including your credit score, the credit reports used by lenders, and the credit scores used by specific lenders may also be customized.

Soft versus hard inquiry

When I have mentioned to clients to request copies of their credit reports I have heard some reluctance as they felt that inquiring for your credit score will negatively impact your credit score — that is not true. When you request your own credit score this is called a “soft inquiry” and does not impact your credit score.

When a lender or a company requests details from Equifax or TransUnion then this would be considered a “hard inquiry.” Hard inquiries can have an impact on your credit rating, but these inquiries are typically triggered when you apply for some form of credit facility.

The rating agencies typically have specific rules with respect to applying at multiple institutions for a loan (for example, a mortgage on your home) so that each inquiry does not negatively impact your credit score — especially if the applications for credit are done within a 14- to 45-day period.

Multiple ways to obtain your credit reports

There are a few different ways that individuals can request a free copy of their credit report from Equifax and TransUnion. You may request online, by mail, in person or over the phone. I’ve heard of situations where a client has tried to apply online and could not authenticate themselves. This likely means that something is not matching up – which provides even more reason for you to be persistent and obtain copies of your credit reports.

Equifax

The first step to obtaining your Equifax credit report is to visit their website. From there, you will be able to apply for your credit report in various ways — online, by mail, in person or over the phone.

Equifax – Request a copy online

After you go to the Equifax website, you will be able to scroll down the page and click on the link to request your free credit report online. From there you enter your personal information, create an account and verify your identity. Information you will have to enter includes your name, address, social insurance number (optional) and date of birth. If you have lived at your current address for less than two years, you will also have to provide your previous street address. After entering your information, you can follow the steps to create your account and verify your identity with a one-time verification passcode, and your report will be generated.

Equifax – Apply by mail

On the Equifax web address above, if you scroll down you will also see where you can request your free credit report by mail. An “Equifax Canada – Consumer Request for Free Credit Report” application in PDF format will appear. You will have to print off this form. The mail approach requires you to complete the necessary personal information, attach documentation to verify your identity, input your address, sign, date and mail the completed package to:

Equifax Canada Co.
National Consumer Relations
Box 190, Station Jean-Talon
Montreal, Quebec
H1S 2Z2

Once Equifax receives your application, it will be sent your home by Canada Post within five to ten business days.

Equifax – Apply in person

The in-person option only works for individuals that live near where an Equifax office is located. Equifax has four consumer care facilities located in Quebec, Ontario, PEI, and Nova Scotia. For anyone living west of Ontario, the in-person option is not practical.

Equifax – Apply by phone

The customer care phone number for Equifax is 1 (800) 465-7166. In my opinion, this is the easiest and most practical way to request your credit report. In less than ten minutes I was able to answer the questions in the Interactive Voice Response system (IVR). IVR is an automated tool that gathers the required information to process your request through voice response or keypad selection.

It is important to note that when requesting your free credit report by phone, you will be required to enter your social insurance number (SIN). If you do not wish to provide your SIN, you will need to apply online or by regular mail as noted above. Once you complete the identity validation process by phone, your credit report will be sent to your home address via Canada Post within five to ten days.

Whether you are applying online, by mail, in person or over the phone for the free copy of the Equifax credit report, you can also pay a small amount to request that the credit report will also include your credit score.

TransUnion

There are several different ways that individuals can request a free copy of the consumer disclosure report from TransUnion. The first step I would encourage you to do is to go to the TransUnion website.

TransUnion – Request a copy online

TransUnion gives the option of requesting your consumer disclosure report online. You can do this once a month which makes regular checking easy. Your computer will need to have Adobe Reader downloaded, which is a free program to download if you do not already have it. You will have to provide much of the details noted above. In my opinion, this is the easiest and most practical way to request your credit report if the information you key in is an exact match with their records.

TransUnion – Apply by mail

In order to receive a copy of your consumer disclosure report by mail, you have to go onto the TransUnion website and download the following application: The Credit Bureau request form. This application is in PDF format and you will have to print it off. The mail approach requires you to complete the necessary personal information, attach documentation to verify your identity, input your address, sign, date and mail the completed package to:

TransUnion
Consumer Relations Centre
3115 Harvester Road, Suite 201
Burlington, Ontario
L7N 3N8

TransUnion – Apply in person

The in-person option only works for individuals that live near where a TransUnion office is located. TransUnion has three consumer care facilities located in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and PEI. For anyone living west of Ontario, the in-person option is not practical.

TransUnion – Apply by phone

The customer care phone number for TransUnion is 1 (800) 663-9980 (Prompt 1). Applying by phone is also an easy and practical way to request your credit report. In less than ten minutes you should be able to answer the questions in the IVR.

Much like with Equifax, you will be required to enter your SIN. If you do not wish to provide your SIN, you will need to apply online or by regular mail as noted above. Once you complete the identity validation process by phone, your credit report will be sent to your home address via Canada Post within five to ten days.

Whether you are applying online, by mail, in-person, or over the phone for the free copy of the TransUnion Consumer Disclosure report, you can also pay a small amount to request that the report will also include your credit score.

TransUnion – one final way to check your credit score

If you have a Scotiacard, you can log in to your online banking and check your credit score. On the right-hand side of the page you will see “Additional Links”. Under this is a link to “See your credit score”. After clicking this, it will bring you to your credit score.

Information is key

We encourage you to request your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. The information in these reports is free and can assist you in keeping an eye on your financial accounts. It takes a few minutes to initially apply, and it doesn’t impact your credit rating whatsoever. Obtaining your credit reports should be done at least every couple of years. You are permitted to request them once a month; however, that would be a bit excessive unless you were specifically nervous about financial fraud happening to you.

Monitoring your credit reports regularly every couple of years can help you obtain peace of mind that no one has inappropriately used your personal data. You meet periodically for a physical with your doctor to stay informed and be proactive about your personal health, so why not line the timing of those meetings up and conduct your own financial health check by obtaining updated credit reports? It will alert you if your financial baseline has changed and is a proactive and prudent measure in protecting yourself from financial fraud.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management, with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week at timescolonist.com. Call 250-389-2138, email greenard.group@scotiawealth.com, or visit greenardgroup.com.

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