Confronting Identity Theft and Internet Fraud

The unprecedented scale of the Equifax breach has renewed fears about cybersecurity and identity fraud. With the sensitive information of over 100 million Americans being compromised at the negligence of one of the very institutions built to protect and monitor our personal credit, the anxiety is warranted.

When we think about identity theft, we often think about compromised social security numbers and online passwords. We find ourselves concerned that someone may apply for a credit card in our name or even fraudulently file our tax return with the IRS to claim our refund for themselves. Less frequently, we may think about someone gaining access to our email account or even just trying to mimic it to impersonate us online. The vast majority of people only read about these types of problems, but we at Tobias Financial Advisors have helped several clients deal with these crimes and others.

The internet has led to a proliferation of identity fraud. Identity theft has been named by the FBI as the fastest growing crime in America. The term “identity theft” was coined about 50 years ago but the actual phenomenon is likely much older than that. The cause for the current increased concern is due to the greater amounts of private information stored by and for us on the internet.

We’ve had “clients” request a money transfer via e-mail only to find out that the client did not actually request such a transfer. In one instance the client’s email account had been hacked without their knowledge. In the other instance, the request came from an email address designed to look like the client’s real email address. In both instances, the fraudulent request was via email and with both, due to our procedures and diligence, no distributions were made. Both times we were able to identify the problem, speak to the real client, and take the appropriate action before any real harm was done. Each of these cases highlights the extremes identity thieves can and will go through to steal your hard earned money.

Tobias Financial Advisors Policy:

As a result of events such as these, we have previously strengthen our procedures with a policy change. Any request for distribution of funds will always be confirmed verbally. We can still use e-mail, or better and safer yet, our electronic vault to work out the details; however, before an actual distribution is made, we will always require a verbal confirmation before moving any money or making any significant account changes.

Some ideas to help protect and monitor your identity:

Subscribe to a credit monitoring service. The costs usually range from $5-$20 per month. We have had good experience with the Identity Guard service from Costco and recommend that as it actively checks all three credit bureaus. There are other services out there and if you have trouble making the selection – call us for a benefit analysis.

Use a different password for each of your online accounts that deal with your financial affairs. This includes all of your banks and credit cards as well as your password for TFA’s vault and your email account. It may help to use a mnemonic system to help remember the passwords.

Always remember to use a combination of capital and lowercase letters and numbers for passwords.

You’ll likely find that you need to keep a list of all your passwords, but be careful where and how it is stored. Never send passwords and user ID’s via e-mail.  Some people will keep their passwords in a file on their computer, on paper, or in an app like Dashlane. Either way they must be protected. We suggest using a system where the actual passwords are not listed on the list; rather keep hints that you can use to easily remember the password.

Be aware of phishing attempts to your email. Phishing is an email sent by a 3rd party designed to look like it came from your bank or another institution with which you do business. An easy way to spot phishing is to place your mouse over a link in your web browser, and NOT click the link. For example, if you mouse over (but don’t click!) Your Bank you should see http://tobiasfinancial.com/ somewhere on your screen. The important things to look for are the letters that come BEFORE the “.com”.  For example, it is easy for someone to give you a link that will take you to www.yourbank.badguys.com and you may think you’re going to www.yourbank.com but actually you’re going to www.badguys.com.

Make sure your computer has some form of security package installed. Antivirus software is a good start but also make sure you’re using something that will detect spyware and other malware.

Don’t use your computer or cell phone to log into your financial accounts when using other Wi-Fi networks such as coffee shops and hotels. Airport wireless networks are notoriously “dirty” and it is best advised to just read a book while you’re waiting for your plane to depart.

Call us if something seems fishy or out of place and we will do our best to help you through it.

Hopefully, you never have to deal with identity theft, but remember to always be vigilant and careful to help prevent it from happening to you!