Perhaps you have heard news stories recently of ransomware fraud which has become a huge problem for businesses, municipalities, and schools. The Colonial pipeline ransomware attack cost the company millions – in addition to cutting gas supplies across much of the eastern United States.
What is ransomware? It is malicious encryption software which gets installed on the computer system which is intended to prevent the systems from working correctly. Criminals install this software through hacking and sometimes through phishing emails - which unwary employees click on links or open attachments. The criminals that have created this software then extort the victim for payment (usually paid via cryptocurrency) for keys or passwords which decrypt the files and enable the system function properly. Sometimes even after payment the files remain encrypted and unusable.
While ransomware is a huge problem for these larger enterprises it is just part of a huge and growing trend for criminals to trick unwitting victims to get financial gain. Of bigger concern to this column is financial frauds perpetrated on individuals by criminals.
Let me give you a sample: A couple weeks ago my dad revealed that he’d almost been taken in by someone who called him posing as a representative of his bank. A client revealed to me that his parents had wired tens of thousands of dollars to Europe in an attempt to get their grandson out of jail (when in fact he was in his college dorm room in the US). A couple years ago I had neighbor kids ring on my doorbell to tell me their mom was hysterically crying on the phone. When I went to their home, I discovered the thieves on the phone had spoofed the local police station phone number and were making threats to her. These thieves are no longer the easily identifiable “Nigerian Prince” scam of a previous decade with bad spelling and grammar – they are now far more sophisticated…
Unfortunately, seniors are the target audience for many scams. They are targeted because they have the most money as a demographic and sometimes are more trusting. Covid has also made a difficult problem worse as it has increased the degree of loneliness and isolation felt by seniors thereby increasing their willingness to listen.
Regardless of who you are, financial fraud should be something you are aware of. How can you protect yourself from becoming a victim?
10 Suggestions for Fraud Protection
- Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus.
- NEVER open an attachment or click on a link in an email from someone you do not know.
- Install good malware and anti-spyware software on all your computers (Total AV, ESET, AVG, Avast, etc…)
- Enable multi-factor authentication and/or biometrics on your financial accounts.
- Never provide personal information such as social security numbers or dates of birth for you or family members to someone who calls you.
- Use high quality passwords and don’t reuse them. Spend a couple dollars for a high quality password manager software to help you track your passwords.
- Don’t provide your DOB to phone apps with no real need to know (you can provide a wrong year and birthday if they require the information and you feel like you need the app)
- The police, the FBI, the IRS and other government agencies will not call you prior to sending you a message by mail. They will NOT ask for personal information or threaten you. Do NOT provide personal information to anyone posing to be a government agency and simply hang up.
- Refuse to provide any personal information from anyone who claims to be calling from your bank. Go to the bank personally if you are unsure.
- Regularly check credit card and banking transactions.