Financial fraud continues to change and become more sophisticated. These threats take various forms, including email scams where criminals obtain investors’ identity and use that information to commit various forms of wire fraud.
Keeping your personal and financial information secure from criminals is a top priority for Halpern Financial. To better protect you and your accounts from threats, we continuously review security procedures to ensure that we are following best practices recommended by the custodians, financial institutions, and industry experts with whom we work.
But you are the first line of defense against a financial scam. (If your password is “password123” or something like it, you’ll want to listen up!) As a fiduciary, we encourage you to take steps to protect your identity and mitigate potential security risks.
Here are a few common financial scams:
It might be the IRS threatening legal action if you don’t pay up…even though you’re pretty sure you paid your tax bill. Or it might be Microsoft letting you know your computer is vulnerable to attack, and that they can help you for a fee. Or perhaps you are the lucky winner of an exclusive vacation to Aruba, and all you need to do to claim your prize is provide your credit card details!
The IRS will never call you to demand payment or personal information. Neither will Microsoft. And do you even remember signing up for that vacation sweepstakes?
Never provide personal information to someone contacting you out of the blue. Whether it is via phone, email or text, always confirm that someone is who they say they are. Do not click links from unknown emails. Go directly to a company’s website, or call them directly to make sure the contact is legitimate. If it is not, you can report these calls to the FTC , or the Treasury Inspector General if the scam is related to the IRS.
Another type of phone scam is spoofing—when scammers “mask” their phone number with the phone number of someone in your contact list, or a number that looks similar to your own (just one or two numbers different). Spoofed calls can be anything from obviously-fake robo-call to a con artist pretending that someone you know is in danger.
How to combat spoofing? Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry or simply don’t answer the phone if you’re not expecting a call. If it is truly important the caller can leave a voicemail! There are also paid apps available that will catch robo-calls for you.
Most people know to just hit DELETE when a foreign prince offers you millions of dollars in exchange for your bank account information via email. But what about when a company you know and work with—or even a friend—sends you a link via email? You might not think twice about it.
Phishing is exactly this type of attack—an email that tries to impersonate a person or organization you know to lure you into providing login information, or to download a malicious file (often from a Dropbox or Google Docs link). They can be convincing at first glance, but when you take a second look, there are often typos or odd phrasing. The sender may even find details about you online to personalize the email and make it seem legitimate. Always carefully check email addresses for typos, and do not click links you weren’t expecting.
If you have any doubt an email is legitimate, make sure to contact the person or company via another method (phone is best if you suspect your email may be compromised) to make sure they really sent it. Financial companies in particular will never ask you for confidential information via unsecured email.
Credit Card Skimming
Credit card skimmers are small physical devices that capture your credit card data. They attach to ATMs, gas pumps, and even the point-of-sale systems at grocery stores, and now they are getting smaller and harder to detect.
The first point of defense here is to use a credit card rather than a debit card, because of the increased fraud protections. In addition, when you are paying for an item, always take a glance at the other cashier stations to see if your point of sale machine looks like the others. Use gas pumps and ATMs in prominent locations (ie. avoid ATMs in the back of convenience stores that could easily be tampered with). Before using your card, wiggle the card input area, and if there are any loose parts, do not use that machine. Always cover your hand when inputting your PIN to thwart any cameras or prying eyes.
Not all Bitcoin Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are scams. But some are, and even the legitimate ones pose a huge risk to investors. An ICO is the Bitcoin equivalent of a stock’s Initial Public Offering, but unlike an IPO (which already comes with a significant amount of risk), ICOs have no regulation and no investor protections. They confer no ownership rights to the investor in the way that a publicly traded stock does.
A self-directed IRA is an investment account that allows alternative investments, such as real estate, mortgages, precious metals and private placement securities. The account itself is perfectly legitimate—the problem arises when the alternative investment is fraudulent. Scammers often explicitly state that custodians investigate and validate the investment in a self-directed IRA. The fact is that custodians are only responsible for holding and administering the assets.
Best practices to protect your personal data:
- Change your passwords regularly, do not reuse the same password twice, and use secure passwords. Yes, it is definitely a pain, but there are a number of ways to keep track of passwords securely and easily. You could even use something as simple as an encrypted text file on your computer. Most internet browsers also have a password management feature. However, the easiest option to generate, store, and sync secure passwords across all of your devices is a password management app.
- Use common sense. If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, or you get a weird feeling about it, pay attention to your instinct. If a request or offer is legitimate, it does not hurt to double-check it, and you’
- Take note whenever you hear about new scams or security breaches in the news. Being aware of the various types of attacks puts you in a better position to guard against them.
- Do your due diligence and be on your guard whenever you are offered an investment opportunity. We have a guide on what to look forand what should be a red flag in your advisor search.
IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION
Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Halpern Financial, Inc.), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this blog will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this blog serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Halpern Financial, Inc.. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Halpern Financial, Inc. is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the blog content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the Halpern Financial, Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request.