The pandemic closed a lot of doors in 2020. But for cybercriminals, business is always open. The more time folks spend socializing, working, shopping, and managing money online, the more sensitive data could be vulnerable to hacks and scams. Click on the wrong link or answer the wrong phone call and you could be at risk for significant financial loss or identity theft issues that can take weeks, months, or years to sort out.
On today's show, I'm happy to welcome back Jeff Lanza for a cybersecurity tune-up that will benefit all of us. During his 20-year career as an FBI Special Agent, Jeff investigated cybercrime, organized crime, human trafficking, and terrorism. He's also lectured at Harvard and Princeton and is a go-to expert for TV news and documentaries. Jeff recently updated his acclaimed book, Cybercrime: How to Stay Safe From Online Fraud and Identity Theft. And I'm pleased to announce that Keen Wealth Advisors will be hosting Jeff for a live presentation on cybersecurity at the Overland Park Convention Center on October 2nd.
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1. Authenticate against ransomware.
Many business owners have been beefing up their internet security after hackers targeted the Colonial Pipeline back in May with a ransomware attack that disrupted U.S. oil supply. According to Jeff, ransomware "is specifically designed to lock up the files on a computer and encrypt them in a way that the victim cannot use the files or even open a file. Imagine having an important Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or photos on your computer, and you go to open one of those documents, and it says you need an encryption key. Well, you don't have the encryption key. Whoever put the malware on your computer has it, and they want a ransom to give you that key."
Jeff says that it's possible the Colonial Pipeline attack could have been prevented with two-factor authentication, which is when websites send a login code to a mobile device that's used in addition to a standard password. Enabling two-factor authentication on your own accounts can help prevent ransomware attacks both at your business and at home. For added security, Jeff recommends a triple backup of all your important files: saving to your computer, saving to an external hard drive that you can plug into another computer, and backing up to cloud storage.
"The only way these attacks are going to stop is if we don't pay ransom anymore," Jeff says, "and we don't have to pay ransom if we can recover our files."
2. Freeze your credit reports.
The last time Jeff was on our podcast, many folks were still dealing with fallout from the 2017 Equifax breach, which exposed millions of private records. In the wake of that attack, Jeff says that changes to federal law have made it easier to freeze your credit reports. Freezing and unfreezing is also free now, so Jeff recommends keeping your credit frozen. If you apply for a line of credit, just ask the issuing bank which of the four credit reporting agencies they use and unfreeze that report temporarily.
"If a bad guy has my Social Security number and tries to apply for credit card using my identity, the credit card company will run a credit check on me," Jeff explains. "But they can't get my credit report because it's frozen. So, the application gets rejected. This is why freezing works so well to prevent fraud."
Parents and grandparents should be aware that you can also now create and freeze credit reports for minors, which prevents hackers from opening credit cards using a child's name.
If you'd like some more information about freezing your credit, check out this resource page from Jeff's website.
3. Don't let Newt scare you.
Recently, you might have seen Newt Gingrich in TV ads for a service that secures your home's title against theft. Jeff says the way this scam works is crooks will go down to a county clerk's office and submit forged documents showing that a house has been sold to them. They then use these fraudulent records to take out home equity loans. This type of fraud occurs mostly on homes that are debt free which makes for easier targets.
"This all sounds very ominous, and it happens," Jeff says. "It's not a very common crime. The commercials make you believe you're in imminent danger of this happening. I don't think that's true."
Essentially, what these services do is call your county clerk's office or check records online to make sure that your home's title is still in your name. You can do that yourself every couple months for free. Many counties even have their own free services that notify homeowners if there are any changes to their titles.
"If this happens to you, it's all based on a forgery," Jeff says. "You'll need an attorney to get everything put back together so it's right legally and that's going to cost money. And those home title services don't provide you with any insurance that cover those costs, at least with their basic services. So, check with your county first, and if they have a service to notify you, that's the best."
4. The government isn't calling you.
One popular scam that's evolved during the pandemic is fraudsters calling or texting you from faked phone numbers asking for your vaccination status, or claiming they have information about the Delta variant in your area or asking you to verify your Social Security number. Text messages have become more prevalent than phone calls lately because the government has cracked down on robocalls, but best practices are the same: never give someone who calls or texts you sensitive information, and don't click on links in any texts or emails from senders you don't know.
Jeff warns, "Don't give information in response to those. And don't even reply STOP. That just identifies your phone number as being legitimate. And then you'll get more of those. So never reply to these unsolicited messages. Just delete them."
For more professional cybersecurity tips, join Jeff Lanza and Keen Wealth Advisors on October 2nd at the Overland Park Convention Center. More details will be coming soon on how to reserve your spot!
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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