Keeping up with changing times and technology is not easy. Every time you turn around someone or some financial institution is asking you to “go paperless” or to sign up for online this or that. In our modern world, it may not be a case of “if criminals get your personal information,” but rather, “when they get your personal information”—and that’s a terrifying thought. When we (I mean all of us) hear stories about someone believing a scammer and giving up personal information, it’s frightening and sometimes we think, “How could this happen?” It happens because the scammers are persistent, they’re trained and they’re telling their stories in very convincing ways. It’s important to protect yourself—make your passwords too difficult for someone to guess, don’t talk to strangers about your personal information, designate your trusted contacts and anticipate phone calls and emails from scammers.
Passwords—Make them difficult and create a way to keep up with them. The number of passwords we are creating for our various needs is becoming too great for us to memorize, except for the few that we use the most. Some best practices around creating passwords include:
Always remember to update your password list anytime you make changes, lest you find yourself continuously updating passwords each time you log onto a site. And be sure to store your book, your spreadsheet or password manager information in a secure place and confirm that a trusted contact knows where you keep it.
Dual- or two-factor authentication and security questions—Let these features be your friends. I confess, the first few times I received a text message with a security code, I entered the sending phone number before I realized that the security code was in the body of the text. For security questions, the lists have gotten longer and you cannot choose the same question repeatedly, but you can choose questions that only require one-word answers and for which you absolutely know that there is only one answer.
Don’t talk to strangers—Just don’t do it and don’t ever give anyone who calls you any personal information. I’ll share some of my own experiences to illustrate the scams that are making the rounds. Recently at Bragg, we received a series of calls (16 in one afternoon) from someone asking for the person who handles our Microsoft updates. The caller insisted that the nature of his call was related to compliance and, boy, was he persistent. I noted the caller’s phone number, Googled it and was quickly able to discern that the number was being reported as connected to a likely scam.
And at home, the first time I received a Microsoft scam call, my phone rang at 7:15 a.m. Believing that this was not a legitimate call, I began to give the caller a hard time about the time of day that he was calling, but he pressed on, “Madame, you must respond! Your Windows program is sending us error messages.” He went on with more reasons why I should immediately go to my computer and turn it on. Even as I hung up on the caller, I wondered if the call was legitimate. And not many months after the Microsoft scam call, I answered to a berating caller from “the IRS.” This time, according to the harassing caller, I had failed to pay my taxes and a large fine was being levied. Again, I was sure that all our taxes were paid and that I could hang up.
On the other hand, one day I received a call from the Fraud Department of our credit card company. I listened to the caller’s recorded message, which stated that there were recent charges on my account that were out of sync with my normal purchases and to please call her back at a number that she recited. I thought, “A ha! I’ll just call the number on the back of my credit card.” The only problem with that logic was that my card had disappeared from my wallet. Unbeknownst to me, my credit card had been stolen, with all other cards left behind, which bought the thieves more time to use my card. The point here is that a legitimate call or caller will allow you to call back or will have a published number to call. The best practice is to call the published number of the company or the phone number on your statement.
If you get a call with someone asking for your personal information or if he tells you that they need any information about your computer, offer to call him back if you believe it’s a legitimate call. You will usually hear that you can’t, which is the truest red flag. These fraudsters are well-trained and are very convincing with reasons that you should do what they ask you to do. But, if you can’t call them back, hang up and know that you’ve saved yourself a huge headache. Many of the phone scams pose as entities that you know, but you can be sure that neither Microsoft, Apple, the IRS, nor the Social Security Administration will ever call you.
Two other words of caution:
From time to time, all of us need assistance with our computers, tablets or mobile phones. We recommend having a reliable IT person who can help you when you have trouble with your devices. If you don’t have someone to help you with your computer, tablet or mobile phone, the Apple Store and Best Buy’s Geek Squad are reputable sources.
Trusted contacts—FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, requires us to obtain trusted contacts when opening new accounts or when updating existing accounts. From an account-management perspective, we may contact your trusted contact for various reasons, such as concerns that you are being financially exploited, have fallen prey to a scam, to confirm your current contact information if we are unable to reach you, or with concerns regarding your health status including signs that you may be suffering from a diminished capacity. Providing the name of your trusted contact to your financial advisor is another action that will help keep you and your personal information safe. You may provide this information with your new account paperwork or with us in our office, but never by email or text message. We are committed to keeping you and your personal information safe and we are grateful for your trust in us. If you have concerns about your accounts, account information, online account access and/or the safety of your information, please contact us. We will always be happy to help you.