Technology has made life extremely convenient. We can monitor our home security from our cell phones; our refrigerators can email or text us when we are out of milk, and we can transfer money with the ease of our thumbprint. Let’s face it. We are a society that forgives misspellings in work emails because they were most likely written on a smartphone using a voice-to-text feature while the sender was driving. While this is all wonderfully convenient for the busy lives we lead, it also leaves us open to cyber theft and fraud.
Email is one of the most common places for a thief to start. Since it is something we use frequently, it likely has our easiest password. And, if you are like most people, you are guilty of using the same password across multiple websites. Furthermore, think about the amount of sensitive information we often send via email: We scan documents and send them to our tax consultants; we fill out forms for our doctors, and we receive all of our paperless billing notifications there. Simply hacking into an email could yield a thief a full name, Social Security number, birthdate, home address and even access to credit cards.
The first step you can take to protect yourself is stepping up your password game. The name of your childhood pet really isn’t secure. Many websites support a two-factor authentication. In addition to your username and password, a two-factor authentication might include a USB port security key that you must have plugged in when logging in; biometric data, like your thumbprint, or a one-time code that is generated by an app or the website itself. The extra step is worth the effort when you are logging into a sensitive website like your financial institution, your credit card or your medical portal.
The second step is to apply some common sense. Some communications are meant for emails and text, like instructions to your housekeeper or construction contractor. However, if you are refinancing your home, buying a car or selling shares of stock, it is in your best interest to pick up the phone and have a conversation with the professionals in your life to confirm directions are legitimate and that you authorize the transaction. While you may be up to par on your security, you should not assume that all the people you do business with are.
As financial advisers, we have an immense responsibility when handling our clients’ money. Let’s say a client emails us to say he needs money from his account transferred to a different account because he is buying a house and need the funds for earnest money and the down payment. This is a very common transaction, and we likely know about the plans to buy the house based on the client’s financial plan. However, we cannot assume that the information contained in the email is valid. We perform our due diligence by calling the client to confirm that he sent the email and check the directions for the transfer. If we are transferring funds to an outside firm, we also call that firm to confirm that the wire directions are correct. While it may take longer than just blindly following directions, the extra steps are warranted.
If you want to know more about how to protect yourself online, read our article, Digital Deception: Current Trends in Cybercrime. If you want to know more about the steps Henssler Financial takes to make sure you are secure our experts will be glad to discuss this with you: