Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Regarding “Watch Out for Phone Call Scams” (January 6, 2022), I want to add a warning for readers to take proactive actions to protect their mobile and online accounts from criminals.

Online crime is getting worse and takes many forms. The news media and authorities are focused on large-scale hacking stories and data breaches of millions of personal accounts, but meanwhile professional cyber thieves around the world are working overtime to hack people’s email accounts and mobile phone numbers in order to steal money electronically from their victims’ accounts. And once it happens, it is already too late. Trying to undo the damage will be challenging and time-consuming, and your local law enforcement may not be able to help you.

While the recent Jewish Link article details a terrible case of theft perpetrated via malware of a mobile phone during a scam phone call, be aware that identity thieves can also steal your mobile phone number by transferring that number to another carrier and onto the thief’s phone, giving the criminal total control of your cell phone number. Thieves will also try to hack your email and other accounts and search them to learn about where you bank and where you have other accounts. With control of your phone number and email, cyber thieves have the online keys to important parts of your financial life. They will use various methods to steal from your accounts.

There are proactive steps people can take that can help secure important online accounts:

1. Log into your mobile phone account or call your carrier and freeze the ability to transfer your phone number to another carrier unless you remove the freeze or use other safeguards, like appearing in person or use a special pin number.

2. Log into the settings on your email account and turn on two-factor authentication (2-FA) and whatever other safeguards are provided. Two-factor authentication sends a code to your phone when you log in from a new device. This makes it harder for a hacker to log into your account. There are other methods of authenticating your account you can choose as well.

3. Add 2-FA settings to your bank account(s) and add whatever other alerts they provide like sending you an alert if your balance drops below a certain level.

4. Do not use your email address as the username for your important accounts. Consider a separate email account just for financial accounts.

5. Create long and complex passwords. Take advantage of built-in password managers that companies like Google provide as part of your Chrome account, or consider using a stand-alone password manager product.

Online banking and communications have revolutionized our lives, but we now have a burden of safeguarding ourselves in this increasingly complex environment. In addition to remaining vigilant about all online transactions, spending the time to enhance the security of your online accounts is a worthwhile endeavor.

Howard E. Friedman
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