By Brittany N. Cox
Registered Investment Advisor at Nestlerode & Loy Investment Advisors
It’s not uncommon to see a news headline about a data breach at a large company that has the information of nearly every one of us. What exactly does a data breach mean? According to Norton, a data breach is a security incident in which information is accessed without authorization. As technology gets more and more sophisticated and more and more of our information enters the digital world, cyber-attacks become more prevalent and of course, more costly.
According to Symantec, personally identifiable information (pii) — such as full names, credit card numbers, and Social Security numbers — were the most common form of data lost to data breaches in 2016, with personal financial information close behind.
How does a data breach occur? Cybercrime is a profitable industry for hackers and continues to grow. They seek out personally identifiable information about consumers to gain access to their money, steal their identity, or even sell goods over the dark web. Cyber-attacks are most often carried out in one of four ways. Out-of-date software can allow an attacker to sneak malware through a hole on a computer and steal data. You could accidentally download a virus by visiting a compromised web page, or you could be targeted by a malware attack through email by clicking on a link which contains a virus. The most common, though, are weak passwords which are easier for hackers to guess.
One type of financial scam for consumers to be aware of is an email scam targeting homebuyers. A hacker will look like your transfer agent or banking professional and request money from you, giving you wire instructions on where to send your money. Then, when you speak to your representative, those weren’t the true instructions and it turns out you’ve sent your money to a hacker as part of a scam.
A recent CNBC article by Annie Nova tells the story of Oliver Ellerbe, who was purchasing a home for his parents to move them closer to him. He received an email from what looked to be the transfer agent with wire instructions to send them his $150,000. What seemed like such a normal business practice turned into a nightmare when he spoke to his agent and they confirmed that they in fact, had not requested the funds. This problem has become a huge one for the real estate industry and is on the rise across all financial industries. In the case of Mr. Ellerbe and most cases like this, consumers generally don’t get their money back.
It’s also important to monitor your credit report to be sure that there are no open accounts in your name that you are unaware of. If a hacker gains access to your personal information, they could open loans, credit cards, etc. using your identity. Sometimes you may get a phone call from a creditor that you are late on a payment for a loan that you didn’t have, other times you know nothing of this loan until you pull your credit report to buy a new home or car. Every individual is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies every 12 months. Monitoring your reports will help you stay alert for any fraud.
Hackers are also targeting colleges for students’ information. According to email and data security company Mimecast, colleges, training providers and other private educational companies received more malicious emails than another sector in the first quarter of 2019. In July, hackers disabled the technology systems at Monroe College in New York and demanded $2 million in bitcoin. Hackers know that students in college are often using this technology and financial software for the first time or are learning to use it and are vulnerable to giving out their information. It’s important for students to be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks when they are studying at coffee shops or restaurants, use passwords for their devices, and do not send their information through their university email.
While technology is a tool that helps us streamline many tasks and makes business easier, it is important to remember that we are at risk if we are entering our personal information. We must remember that we may be targeted by scammers and we should verify anything suspicious via email or telephone.
It is important that any financial requests via email be followed up with a phone call. Make your passwords to your financial apps secure and do not use common words or phrases such as your name or your kids’ names. Do not send emails that contain your social security number or other personal information, instead call and provide this information to the requesting party. While these are only a few tips to keep your information secure, we should always be alert about our information in the digital space.