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Like days of old, today’s digital pirates are after one thing…money. Either money in your accounts, or money gained by using your identity. Unfortunately, every day, these pirates get smarter, as is seen with the recent Equifax security breach, which investigators just announced, has affected an additional 2.5 million Americans, for a total of 145.5 million people. It makes you wonder, if a company as large as Equifax, holder of some of our most precious digital information, can get hacked, how is the average consumer or business person able to avoid the effects of piracy?

Regrettably, despite the claims of some security software, there is no 100% foolproof way to protect yourself and your identity. It is a constant war, where the hackers and scam-artists continue to improve themselves and their techniques. Just like physical security measures, if an online thief is persistent, we will never eliminate all the potential breaches of security. However, similar to home alarms, cameras and safes, there are steps we can take to thwart the long-term effects of these pirates.

Some people are so afraid of the potential risks, they refuse to do any banking or input any personal information online. This, of course, is a pseudo solution. But, as seen with Equifax, you may not put your information out there, but others are, whether we agree or not. And, as our world becomes more digital, it is becoming more difficult to “stay off the grid.” Personally, I do everything online. Banking, bill paying, shopping, etc. It makes my life and business easier. But, I also am proactive in ensuring that my online activity is as secure as possible.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Use good passwords, and not the same ones for every website. Use something easy to remember, but make it longer. Passwords that are at least 15 characters are more difficult to crack. Add some characters for letters, and if you must write down a reminder, use a hint. For example: hint – favorite team; password: ILoveTheP@ckers (for my Wisconsin friends :D)
  2. Check your credit reports often. By federal law, the three large credit reporting agencies have to give each American one free copy of their credit report each year. So, visit AnnualCreditReport.com three times a year, each time requesting one of the companies credit reports. Also, see if your information was breached by Equifax, and signup for their free one year credit monitoring, if you are a victim.
  3. Check your banking and credit card statements often. Online access makes this easier. Many banks and credit card companies do a good job of alerting you if there is suspicious activity, But, if you prefer to use the paper statements that come in the mail, make sure you review them closely each month. Some banks will require filing a police report. Be vigilant. It is your money. Some thieves will perform a small withdrawal to see if they can get away with a larger withdrawal later. Stop them as soon as you see anything suspicious.
  4. Use a RFID blocker. There are pirates everywhere. Now, they can carry RFID scanners to scan the information off of the debit and credit cards in your wallet as you walk by. One additional security measure is to purchase wallets that block those scanners.
  5. Close your browser windows after logging off of a secured website. To further strengthen this, have your browser window clear all your history when you close the browser window. Yes, it may require you to have to login with your password next time, but, the additional security is worth the hassle.
  6. Go to the source. NEVER click on a link in an email. If you receive a suspicious email, stating that there is something wrong with your bank, utility, Amazon or PayPal account, and a button or link to “Click Here” to resolve, never click on the link. The thieves are improving their spelling and grammar, and making their emails look more legitimate. But, if you take the time to look at the originating domain of that email, 9.9 times out of 10, it is someone “phishing” for your information. So, go to the source. Close the email. Login to the company’s website by typing in their web site address in your browser, or call the customer service department directly (do not call a phone number listed in the email) and verify if there is truly an issue with your account. From my experience, there has never been anything wrong with my account, but there would have been if I had clicked on the link, as instructed.
  7. Microsoft will never call you or post a message on your computer screen. Microsoft is in the business of developing software. Their engineers do not have time to monitor the virus activity of every computer in the world. So, if you receive a phone call, from a foreigner claiming to be Microsoft, hang up immediately. And do not let them harass you, and never let them have access to your computer or banking information. Now, the only legitimate phone call you may receive about suspicious virus activity on your Internet traffic would be your Internet Service Provider (ISP). However, they would never ask for access to your computer or bank information. They simply tell you to rectify the situation, perhaps with the assistance of your computer technician, or they will have to turn off your Internet access. So, if you receive any strange calls, call a local computer technician you trust for advice. And, if you are still concerned, make an appointment to have that technician inspect your computer.
  8. The IRS does not call you out of the blue, threatening arrest. They send letters. So, if you get a call stating you have to pay a fine right now, or police will be at your door, hang up. It is a scam. If you are truly concerned, call the IRS directly, and they can verify the validity of the claim.
  9. You did not win a British lottery…unless you actually bought a ticket. And, unless you personally know of a wealthy relative to whom you are their estate’s sole heir, there are no real attorneys ready to send you money. Nor, is there a desperate oversees individual that needs you to hold onto their money for safekeeping. With these scam phone calls and emails, the claim is that you send a few hundred or thousands of dollars, in order to receive a larger sum. Complete scam. The only one that benefits is the thief that took your money…and as it is typically overseas, there is little you or the FBI can do to get the money back.
  10. Along these same lines, verify with reliable sources if your son, grandson, nephew, etc., is really in jail, in the hospital, or in any way in trouble, before you wire money. In my mind, this is a very perverted method of getting money from individuals. It preys simply on the premise that people care about the well-being of their family, and they will do everything they can to protect the most important people in their lives. If you get such a phone call, get a phone number to call back, and hang up. In most cases, if it is a pirate, they will not give a phone number, but pressure you to act immediately. Be smart, and verify the information first. You can always apologize to a true family member in need later, but once the money is sent, there is no way to get it back from a thief.

Obviously, this list is not all inclusive. As, mentioned, the pirates get craftier every day. However, if you are proactive in the protection of your information, you will have no, or only minor, long-term consequences. So, if you only remember one thing from this message, please let it be “verify first.” That one step will go a long way to protect you and your hard-earned money from digital pirates.

Until next issue…Best wishes in your endeavors!

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