In an age where security breaches and cyberattacks dominate the headlines, personal security is a concern for everyone. The good news is that if you take a few precautions, you can greatly reduce the chances that you will be a target for fraud. We recently met with a group of clients and colleagues for a discussion with former FBI agent and current VP of Fidelity Security Services, Gary F. Rossi, who shared several simple steps you can take to help keep your personal information secure online and keep your family safe at home and while traveling.
We’ve all seen the news accounts of the significant amount of personal information that has been stolen by hackers. Most of us know people who have gone through the extremely tedious and time-consuming exercise of recovering their identities once it’s been stolen. And some of us know individuals who have suffered financial losses from hackers who have accessed their credit cards and bank accounts. It’s more than enough to keep you awake at night!
We recently hosted our second Heard from Clients event where we heard from renowned security expert, Gary Rossi, who served as Fidelity’s Head of Corporate Investigations for nearly a decade. Corporate Investigations leads all customer fraud and identity theft matters, anti-money laundering cases and cyber-related investigations. Before joining Fidelity, Rossi was Chief of the FBI’s Undercover and Sensitive Operations unit at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Rossi offered the following practical tips to keep your personal information safe:
- Place a permanent freeze on your credit with each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. This ensures that your personal credit cannot be accessed by anyone who does not have your PIN number, which is assigned when you freeze your credit. If your personal information is ever stolen, it cannot be used to open new credit cards or fraudulent loans. The California Department of Justice explains how to do this here.
- Use two-factor authentication (secondary verification) wherever possible for online accounts. If your login ID and password are stolen, secondary verification can keep hackers from accessing your account. According to Rossi, less than one percent of people use secondary verification even though it’s the number one way to protect yourself from hackers.
- Use a separate computer or device (iPad, etc.) to log into all of your financial accounts. Do not use this same device for email, search, web surfing, social media or shopping. Malware delivered via email and in online advertising is a common tool used by hackers to gather your keystrokes which provides them with your login IDs and passwords. If you never use email or web surf on the device that is dedicated to your credit card, bank, brokerage and other financial accounts, hackers can’t gather your login ID and password via an email hack.
- Minimize your online footprint. Sophisticated syndicates use social media to gather information on wealthy individuals. They look for ways to access their social networks and to gain access. Be sure that your privacy settings limit who can see your posts, and be sure that the privacy settings on your children’s accounts are also set to limit access. Be sure to turn off the “location settings” while posting pictures on vacation.
- Never log into your email or financial accounts from an unsecure Wi-Fi network. If you are not certain that the Wi-Fi network is secure, do not use it to access your financial accounts, and only use it for email if you are using an encrypted link.
- Establish low balance alerts for all credit and debit cards. So that you are aware of ALL activity on your credit and debit cards, wherever possible establish text alerts to your mobile phone for all charges exceeding $0.01.
- Never trust the wiring instructions you receive via email. Always contact the financial institution that provided you with wiring instruction by phone to re-verify the instructions you’ve received by email. And, before the wire is released, be sure that your financial institution reconfirms the final instructions with you by phone. Sophisticated fraud syndicates that secure access to an email account will wait for an opportunity to change wiring instructions. This type of fraud is called “man in the middle,” and it has become rampant. Billions of dollars are being stolen using this technique. The only way to stop this type of fraud is to re-verify the wiring instructions by phone.
Our discussion with Rossi lasted over two hours with many stories and lessons learned from his years in the FBI and from his time spent protecting Fidelity’s clients. While we can’t do his stories justice, we can offer this resource Rossi provided called Personal Security from All Angles. It contains a wide array of suggestions for how you can be safer online, at home and when you travel.
As always, please give us a call if you’d like to learn more about keeping your personal information and family safe!