By Joel Dresang

I must give the impression that I’m not athletic. For whatever reason, the multinational bank that issued my credit card couldn’t believe it was me who made a purchase at So, it sent me a text directing me to call the number on the back of my card.

“Do you recognize this charge?” asked an additional email the bank sent me at 4:30 in the morning.

It so happened that the Nike item didn’t ring a bell. So, I rang the bank’s fraud department. The person who answered said his name was Mark. He was calm and polite, patient and efficient. Apparently, I’m not the first customer to call him about credit card fraud.

Within a minute, Mark verified who I said I was and accepted that I did not charge $147.36 at Nike. Nor did I make three purchases of $98 each at the PGA Tour Superstore online.

He said he’d close my account to prevent further fraud and send me a new card immediately. I wouldn’t be responsible for the false charges.

In the 14 minutes we were on the phone, Mark saved me $441.36. That was the good news. The bad news was all the other rigmarole still ahead for me — and the dreaded reality that this probably will happen again.

Cybersecurity is in the news lately. It was a hot topic in the historic summit between presidents Biden and Putin. Ransomware attacks recently hit global meat producers, multistate pipelines, mass transit authorities, even police departments. The takeaway for individuals: Crooks are lurking on the internet, looking to steal identities and hack into accounts.

Learn more
Don’t let ID thieves get your money too, by Joel Dresang
Frauds and scams, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Online Security, from the Federal Trade Commission

The Identity Theft Resource Center notes a two-year trend in which cybercriminals have been aiming at the deeper pockets of big businesses; the number of breaches mining consumer data dropped 19% in 2020. But don’t be lulled into believing your personal accounts are safe.

“Now is not the time for consumers to think their risk has evaporated,” Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, said in the victim assistance group’s 2020 annual report. “There are still hundreds of millions of records exposed each year and consumers need to understand this is a continuing risk that can have real impacts on their lives.”

In 2020, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission received a record 3.6 million consumer complaints of identity theft and fraud. In just the first three months of 2021, the agency took in nearly 1.2 million such complaints, up 80% from the first quarter of 2020.

“Really stay awake as it relates to your cybersecurity,” Dave Sandstrom noted in the May 28 Money Talk Podcast. “Make sure that you are keeping due diligence and a vigilant behavior as it relates to your emails. Make sure that you’re not just opening everything and clicking on links unless you really know who it’s from or if you’ve actually asked somebody to send you some information.”

After I got off the phone with Mark, I gathered recent account statements for my credit card. I double-checked to make sure there weren’t other fraudulent transactions. Then I listed all of the automated payments I made with the card. There were 13.

I signed into each of those accounts and changed my credit card information from my canceled card to a less-used card I have through my credit union. A few times during the process, the credit union contacted me to verify that I was the one adding the credit card to those accounts.

I can’t be sure how crooks got use of my credit card, just as I can’t know how somebody stole my identity a few years ago and opened an Amazon card in my name and bought themselves three robotic vacuum cleaners for $2,838. The point is these crimes occur, and we have to take steps to minimize them and the harm they can inflict.

The ongoing threat of cybercrime keeps Landaas & Company on its toes protecting client information not only through technological investments but also constant procedural reviews and training updates, Kyle Tetting noted.

“We do quite a bit of security training inhouse, and it’s incredibly helpful even for folks who are otherwise fairly technology savvy to be reminded sometimes that maybe I should go change some passwords, maybe I should add multi-factor or two-factor authentication to, especially, financial websites,” Kyle said during the May 28 Money Talk Podcast. “It can’t hurt to always review those things that might put you at risk to make sure you’re not putting more out there than you need to, that you’re not clicking on links that you don’t trust.”

In a three-part series of Money Talk Videos, Jason Scuglik offers advice on personal financial security. Among his tips:

  • Be sure you know who’s really sending an email.
  • Scrutinize links in email.
  • Beware of attachments.
  • Know who you’re sending email to.
  • Don’t send sensitive information through email.
  • Create complicated, unique passwords for each account and keep them safe, ideally in an online password manager.
  • Use two-factor or multi-factor authentication when available.
  • Change your passwords immediately if you suspect they have been compromised.
  • Update your devices’ operating systems and applications when called for.
  • Don’t communicate sensitive information using public Wi-Fi.
  • Back up important data with a portable hard drive or a secure online service.

Even after taking precautions, I know that I am still vulnerable to occasional cyberfraud. The unauthorized charges at Nike and the golf store remind me that I need to look out for unusual activity, report it promptly to my financial institutions and change my passwords. I also need to review my credit reports regularly to make sure that whoever has my stolen personal information hasn’t opened accounts or taken loans in my name.

Other Money Talk articles from Joel Dresang

Federal law requires the major credit reporting agencies to give us a free look at their reports on us once a year. Amid the financial upheaval of the pandemic, the agencies allowed weekly peeks at credit reports. That has been extended to April 2022.

Accessing credit reports isn’t difficult, but I kept putting it off — until a couple of other alerts. In April, I got a notice of a data breach from ParkMobile, the app tied to public parking meters in Milwaukee. In May, American Family Insurance notified me of yet another breach.

I probably will never know if either of those breaches impacts me, but as long as criminals figure they can profit from other people’s personal information, I need to protect my finances from my loss of privacy.

Joel Dresang is vice president-communications at Landaas & Company.

(initially posted June 30, 2021)

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