Don’t be a Cyber Victim

A kind couple was opening an investment account and when the question came up about giving them online access they responded emphatically, “No, we don’t want any of our information available online in any form.” I remember thinking of the best way to let them know that their information was already on the internet in many forms and from many sources. It is the nature of the digital world in which we live.
News of Cyber-attacks have become commonplace.  Computer hackers were once the 14-year-old next door just having fun, but more often the attacks now come from highly sophisticated criminal enterprises, many sponsored by foreign governments with enormous resources. It sometimes leaves people wondering what to do.
It is unknown how many people have had their online information compromised but in 2017 the Equifax hack alone exposed roughly 150 million Americans to cyber criminals. Keep in mind that a hacker is like an old-fashioned burglar. When the door is broken down you know he was in the house, but you may not know which rooms he went in. When there is a cyber-attack, notification is sent to every “potential” victim, but that does not mean your information was actually stolen or will be used.
I have decided that the best course is to assume that your personal information has been stolen, and act accordingly. What a cybercriminal wants is largely two-fold; To get access to your existing financial accounts, or to open new credit lines in your name that you don’t know about. Protecting against the first comes from personally monitoring your bank, investment and credit card accounts for suspicious activity. If you deal with an institution that carries insurance such as FDIC or SIPC or others, then losses will largely be protected against. (check with your institution for specific guarantees)
To protect against unauthorized credit lines, I highly recommend employing a credit monitoring service of some sort. These are designed to alert you anytime a credit line is opened, allowing you time to notify the institution if it was unauthorized. Some people don’t want to pay the monthly fee. I am reminded that when I grew up I don’t think my parents even had a key to our house. It was certainly never locked. Today it would be unreasonable to not pay for good locks and even security systems to protect our homes. Today, your greatest financial assets are generally not kept in your home, such as your good name and credit rating. It would be unreasonable to not spend the money and effort to protect those assets.
Governments and institutions spend enormous money to protect your personal information, but all their efforts cannot, and never will, be a perfect solution. In this digital age it is critical that individuals make the effort to monitor their own personal situation so that when a theft occurs, they will know about it and can act to protect themselves. Cyber thieves thrive on those who don’t pay attention. Don’t be that victim.