October 12, 2017

What a combo! Ghosts and goblins seem pretty tame compared to the potential theft of our financial information. 146 million Americans got a big scare last month when Equifax announced that hackers had stolen their personal information. Fast food chain Sonic just announced that customers’ debit and credit card information was stolen last week. So, while Halloween costumes, haunted houses and trick or treats get put away on November 1st, cybersecurity issues cannot be put away in the attic trunk or tossed into the garbage.

We probably all wish we could just email Equifax a two word message: “You’re Fired!” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. For example, Fannie Mae, who sets the rules for most mortgages, requires information from all three credit “repositories.”  If you will never need a mortgage, you can try to delete your files from Equifax. However, those who have tried have been put “on hold” for hours and then told that deletion of their files was impossible. The “no” response to deletion was confirmed by Equifax former CEO Richard Smith last week to Congress. For now, the best we can do is freeze (not “lock”) our accounts at Equifax, Transunion and Experian.

New “cyber-vampires” are emerging from the darkness. Did you ever watch the movie “Catch me if you can?” Great film.  It is the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a master of deception and a brilliant forger who stayed one step ahead of the FBI (Tom Hanks) for five years with his highly successful scams. Once arrested, he spent five years in jail from age 21 to 26. Since that time, Mr. Abagnale has put his unique skills to good use teaching FBI agents around the country about cybercrime, identity theft and fraud.   He also serves as an ambassador for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and lives in Daniel Island, SC. Here are some of Frank Abagnale’s (“FA”) recent warnings:

FA: “Stop writing checks- if you are still paying by check, you might be putting your life savings at risk.” If you go into a grocery store and write a check, you have to hand the clerk the check with your name and address, phone number, your bank’s name and address, your bank account number, the bank routing number and your signature. And then, the clerk may ask to write down your date of birth and driver’s license number as well. You never get the check back, it goes to the store’s warehouse, where it may be destroyed thoroughly (or not) six months from now. Anyone seeing the check has all they need to draft on your bank account tomorrow.

FA: “It is now 4,000 times easier to forge checks (with today’s technology).” 50 years ago, FA used a Heidelberg printing press, originally costing $1 million, to forge checks. The press was 90 feet long and 18 feet high. Now, one simply opens their laptop and says, “Who’s my victim today?” In fact, FA indicates that forging checks is so easy these days that street gangs that used to deal in drugs and narcotics are forging checks instead. FA: “It’s easier and you spend a lot less time in jail if you are caught.”

FA: “Technology breeds crime-whether it is forging checks or getting information.” Facebook is a great source of information for the crooks. One of the most common scams now is the “grandparents scam.” The bad guys go on Facebook and find out who the grandparents are and see who the grandson is dating. They easily manipulate their telephone caller ID to show a call coming from the NYPD or other police department. The thieves place their call on a Friday night and tell the grandparents that the grandson is at the jail after being picked up for DUI/DWI and being held for bail. If money for bail is not received in two hours, the grandson will have to spend the weekend in prison. “Millions of grandparents have fallen for this scam.”

At DWM, we recognize that you have worked and continue to work very hard for your money. Our goal, in every facet of providing Total Wealth Management, is to protect and grow your assets. Cyber-safe practices are a key element of risk management. Our first job is to educate our clients and friends about the importance of cybercrime, identity theft and fraud. Charles Schwab & Company, the custodian for our clients’ money, is as dedicated as we are to keep you and your funds safe and help prevent attacks.

Watch for more blogs this month (and beyond) on cybersecurity. It’s a tremendously important topic!!