As published in the Racine Journal Times | April 3, 2013
A couple weeks ago I opened an email with the message “Hi Morgan” which I knew was odd since I’m not typically addressed by my last name. The message went on to request “cash balances” as the person “needs to make a request in regards to an urgent wire transfer.” I’ve certainly seen my fair share of phony emails that I’m entitled to a small fortune or a friend is stranded in a foreign country but this was the first request from someone contacting me for money in my role as a financial advisor.
Turns out this is the new approach to identify theft. Rather than getting you to send money yourself, thieves are impersonating you with your financial advisor to request they send the money under the guise that you’re in a financial emergency and need immediate help.
Fortunately you’re not defenseless in protecting yourself from many of the more common methods used to steal your identity. Quite a bit has been written about regularly changing your passwords or using uncommon words and phrases that are not easily replicated. I also recommend you discuss with your professional advisors such as your attorney, financial advisor and accountant things they do to help protect your identity as well.
One of our policies is to verbally confirm any email requests for distributions which is one of the most effective methods to avoid fraudulent email requests for wire transfers. Another good habit is to never email sensitive information that a thief could use to impersonate you. Another good indicator that something might be amiss is if you receive an email that “looks” official, but contains grammatical or spelling errors or uses language that seems unusual for the sender. A reasonable rule of thumb: if it feels suspicious, it probably is suspicious and you should trust your instinct.
One of the things that makes this new form of identity theft so disturbing is the thieves often gain access to your email account and search for previous emails to see if you have a financial advisor and have made similar requests in the past. They then use some of the same wording to make their request but change the bank account information.
Frank Abagnale, the author and subject of “Catch Me If You Can” has spent the last 35 years helping people protect themselves from identity theft. In his book “Stealing Your Life” he describes identity theft as the easiest crime to pull off and the most profitable. Abagnale’s book is full of interesting stories about some of the most brazen identity thefts. He also includes practical tips for protecting yourself from being a victim of identity theft.
If you ever have questions or concerns, or are worried that your email accounts or other sensitive information has been compromised, contact our office so we can be on the look-out for any suspicious activity.