October is cybersecurity awareness month—and the idea is worth taking seriously, particularly for wealthy families.
Online Crime Increasing
Cybercrime has risen dramatically in recent years, and online crooks are growing ever more sophisticated, strategic and patient in their quest to separate you from your wealth. The FBI reported a record 847,376 complaints of suspected internet crime in 2021, resulting in more than $6.9 billion of losses.1
Wealthy households are prime targets for cybercriminals because they have money but usually lack the high levels of security used by corporations. Indeed, a 2019 study by Accenture2 found that 77% of high-net-worth individuals were more concerned about cyberattacks than about losing money on their investments.
Phone spam is a fast-growing threat, with the prevalence of malicious texts rising more than 1,000% between April 2021 and February of this year.3 “Smishing” text messages, like phishing emails, claim to be from reputable companies and seek phone owners’ account passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information.
Cybercrooks use smishing in a variety of ways. They attempt to lure targets into downloading malware that installs itself on their phone. The malicious software, which may resemble a legitimate app, routes confidential information you enter to the hackers. Other smishing messages contain links to fake websites that ask you for sensitive information.
Don’t Take the Bait
“Urgent security alerts” and other messages insisting on swift action should be regarded as hacking attempts. Legitimate financial institutions and merchants don’t text requests for sensitive information, period. If you have any doubts about a message, call the company directly using a number you find after navigating independently to their website. Don’t click on links or redial phone numbers in messages you’re unsure about and be on the lookout for numbers that don’t look like typical mobile phone numbers. Don’t under any circumstances store credit card or banking information on your cell phone. If hackers do breach your device, they’ll have that information at their fingertips.
Old Threats Persist
Phishing—using fraudulent emails to trick recipients into sharing private information—has been around since the 1990s. But the practice has spawned ever-more-sophisticated offshoots in the form of “spear fishing.” Rather than blasting out countless emails hoping for a few targets to take the bait, spearphishers target individuals by posing as a trusted party. To aid their scam, they use information about their victim gathered online. Spear phishing emails typically appear to be from a trusted person or organization and use language that seems familiar. The goal is to have the target click a link or download a file containing ransomware or other malicious programs. Some attempts remove the middleman and simply try to trick the victim into transferring funds.
Safeguarding Your Social Media
For spear fishers, information is an advantage. They meticulously gather personal details from social media accounts—not just from their immediate targets but also from the targets’ friends and family. Stitching together information about their targets’ lives can help them build an effective attack strategy. Such sophisticated practices mean that using strong passwords and up-to-date antivirus software, while essential, are not enough. It’s also vital to exercise caution about what you reveal online and encourage those in your networks to do the same.
Don’t Attract Attention
Remember too that cybercrooks use social media to source new, wealthy-looking targets. So while it’s tempting to post about one’s new house, trip to Europe or recent fancy soiree, be aware that trusted contacts may not be the only ones seeing them. It’s a good practice to set social media accounts to private, which allows you to curate who has a window into your life. Resist the urge to share too much, especially if you are a company owner, C-level executive, donor or board member, since these groups are common targets for fraudsters.
Cyber crime isn’t going away. Scammers will always adapt to new technology and seek creative new ways to attempt to steal your money. In our digital world, your best defenses are common sense and vigilance. Your wealth advisor can help you learn more about creating digital defenses.
This article is for informational and educational use only and should not be interpreted as specific advice. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but we do not warrant the accuracy of the information. Consult an information technology or cybersecurity professional for specific information related to your own situation.
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