Today marks the third time I've had the honor to welcome retired FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza to our podcast.
In his 20-plus-year career, Jeff investigated cybercrime, fraud, organized crime, human trafficking, and terrorism. Jeff is now a regular on TV news, including CNBC, the Fox News Channel, "The Today Show," and "Good Morning America." He's the author of two books and has spoken around the globe and in 49 states, including lecturing at Princeton and Harvard.
On this episode, Jeff offers several actionable steps that folks can take to secure their online info and steer clear of the latest scams.
Plus, I'm thrilled to announce that, for the first time since the pandemic, Jeff is once again teaming up with Keen Wealth Advisors for a live Cyber Security Conference on October 7th at the Overland Park Convention Center.
Watch Our Conversation
1. Romance scams
A common theme in the scams that Jeff studies is that fraudsters target people at their most vulnerable moments. Someone who is living alone or who has just lost a loved one can be especially susceptible to scams promising companionship.
"Generally, someone who is overseas sets up a profile online," Jeff explains, "and they start finding victims. It could be a widow. It could be a widower. And then based on that fake profile, they start to build trust through this relationship. Finally, they have a reason to ask for money. And when that happens, it is 100% of the time fraudulent. There's no reason anyone should ever send money to someone overseas that they've met online, no matter what they say."
If you suspect that someone you know is caught in a romance scam, it's important that you approach them from a place of empathy, not judgment. "How could you be so stupid!" isn't going to change anyone's mind -- in fact, you might send that person right back to the scammer.
"You don't want to make them feel embarrassed," Jeff advises. "That's when they retreat, and then you can't help them anymore. One way to handle this is not to be critical, it's to understand the situation, empathize with them, and maybe tell them about other stories that you know about people who have been victimized this way. It's empathy, it's understanding, and it's trying to facilitate them coming to the belief that this person is not trying to help them. They're trying to rip them off."
2. Text message and phone call scams
Many of us have received fraud alert text messages or phone calls from credit card companies and banks, such as, "Did you charge $250 in San Francisco today? Reply Y or N." Jeff says that replying to these messages to phone numbers you recognize is relatively safe but is not recommended as it can lead to more fraudulent communications. But if someone follows up asking you to "verify your identity" with an account number, Social Security number, or password, you're probably dealing with a scammer.
"Remember, they're the ones who contacted you," Jeff says. "Your bank or Netflix or whoever should have your information. They don't usually contact you that way."
Unfortunately, follow-up interactions with fraudsters can create those emotional moments where we make bad decisions. A scammer might call from a number that looks like a bank number and tell someone that their account has been hacked and they need to do a password reset over the phone. Or crooks might say they need to initiate a wire transfer to a "safe" bank account to protect the victim's money.
Jeff says, "If you ever get contacted like this, hang up and call the organization at a number you know. Not one that's in a text message, and not one where you're getting a phone call based on some reply that you made because they can spoof the number to make it look like it's coming from that organization. Put the phone numbers of your financial institutions -- your wealth advisor, your bank, and any other important organization that may have access to your money -- in your phone. And if you're out somewhere and you get a fraud alert message, you can call that organization right away."
3. Email and social media scams
"Email is a treasure trove of information for a criminal," Jeff warns. "They can learn a lot about the victim and see who their credit card companies are, who their banks are, financial advisors, and then come up with all sorts of tricks once they have that information."
Combine that personal info with new AI technology, and the possibilities get really chilling. For example, a crook who hacks into your email or social media accounts might find a video of your grandchildren that they can manipulate into a cry for help -- and, of course, money.
Even if you're using strong passwords -- a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and symbols -- it's probably time to take your online security up a notch. Jeff recommends enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) for your accounts, which locks up your info behind both your password and your phone. As for passwords, consider changing them to an easy-to-remember passphrase or using a password manager.
4. Credit Fraud
Criminals using your personal information to open banking and credit card accounts can be among the most damaging scams and the hardest to get out from under. But according to Jeff, locking up your credit is also one of the easiest fraud-prevention measures you can take.
"Just Google 'Credit freeze for TransUnion, credit freeze for Experian, credit freeze for Equifax,'” he recommends. “Freeze your credit reports. It's free and it'll keep you safe from lots of fraud. Criminals can't open credit card accounts or get loans in your name if your credit reports are frozen. I did this a few years ago and it's taken a load off knowing that I can't get those accounts opened in my name. It's free to freeze your credit reports. It's free to lift a freeze to get a credit check yourself, and it's free to freeze it again."
For more info on protecting yourself against fraud, I highly recommend Jeff's book CYBERCRIME: How to Stay Safe From Online Fraud and Identity Theft.
And if you're not already subscribed to the Keen on Retirement mailing list, click here to sign up and we'll send you more info about Jeff's live Cyber Security Conference on October 7th at the Overland Park Convention Center.
Bill Keen is a financial advisor with nearly 30 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he focuses on 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 Forbes, 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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