As we progress into the New Year, itâ€™s important to take stock of your personal financial security.
Hackers have not taken a pandemic break. During tax season, they can actually get busier, as taxpayers share or request personal financial information to prepare for tax filings. Play it safe. Change log on passwords frequently and review with family members some basic rules for sharing personal information or even making transactions, especially when using the Internet. Discuss what types of information can be shared via email and with whom. Explore encryption software for sensitive documents.
If you are skeptical about the need to take these precautions, just visit several websites to inform yourself of current scams. Unfortunately, hoodwinkers continue to find new victims.
The website scambusters.org publishes an annual survey of the top scams of any one year. The site also forecasts which scams are likely to become the biggest problems in the year to come. If you have already fallen prey to a scam, visit www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds. Also talk to your local police department. Keep in mind that the officers will need a lot of personal information about the supposed scammer to pursue a complaint. It pays to know precisely with whom you are doing business.
Investors should log on to www.sec.gov, the website of the federal Securities and exchange Commission website, to view the list of scams inventoried there. See http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/cyberfraud.htm. The Securities and Exchange Commission also publishes investor alerts for the latest scams, at www.investor.gov.
Despite your due diligence, scams and frauds can divert and zero out retirement assets accrued over a lifetime. Fraudsters often target unsuspecting elderly, or homebound people. However, no one is necessarily safe. The cons can also take in ordinary people. Here is a list of a few of the scams I have witnessed among friends and acquaintances.
1) Craigslist.com ads. Cons see an ad advertising a vehicle or a house to rent, then impersonate the actual owner to solicit a prepayment or deposit by PayPal, GreenDot.com, or Western Union. The thieves run their own versions of the ads to solicit unsuspecting takers and may ask for half the price or rent of the original ad.
2) Dating and sweetheart scams. A lonely woman seeks out male companions using Internet dating services. A gentleman courts her with frequent exchanges of emails then asks for money to come visit, from another state or country. The money is sent but the person disappears. Worse yet, the man or woman courting the other party adopts a false persona, and meets the victim in a house or community where the person in fact does not normally live.
3) Computer malware. Beware of advertisements for software upgrades, to enhance computer performance. Some of the supposed fixes actually freeze up the computer until users pay for an unlocking key. Then the software patch installs tracking software to capture financial transactions allowing eventual account theft. Anti-virus software may not catch the intruder software if it self-installs in white disk space. If in doubt, have your computer technician service your computer; safety is worth the fee.
4) Bogus mortgage, credit card or investment scams. Thoroughly check out anyone with whom you do business, in the community. Consider using reputable people in the community first, rather than responding to Internet-based solicitations. There are just too many bogus websites offering non-existent newsletters or even products. Once the thieves have your payment or personal data, they may be able to use it for other frauds.
5) Ponzi schemes with Bitcoins. Usual red flags; unlicensed individuals, unregistered investment firms, secretive strategies and no minimum investor qualifications. All victims welcome. See www.sec.gov for continuing updates.
There are rarely quick routes to wealth. If someone promises quick profits and the idea seems too good to be true, it probably is. Higher yields usually signal riskier investments. It is important to seek the guidance of a professional in designing portfolios for accumulation of nest eggs or withdrawal of benefits for a lifetime.
Finally, one last piece of advice. Be naturally suspicious of anyone asking for personal identification via email. Banks do not typically request personal information by email. Should you receive a phone call from someone at your bank, offer to call back, but call back through your branch. Ask for a transfer to the bankâ€™s fraud unit if the reason for the call pertains to credit card misuse. Prevent theft of your document records by shredding all financial statements before disposal.
Work closely with your trusted advisors, your tax preparer and investment counsel, and check in with them about any new ideas that others new to your life direct your way. If you are exploring suitable, income producing investments, we at Stratos Wealth Partners are happy to help.
*Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.