Cybersecurity – Do You Really Know Who You Are Talking To?

Marilyn Brohm |

An unfortunate reality is that cybercriminal activity is at an all-time high. Many of these criminals use strategic technological attacks to acquire your personal information. They have creative ways to extract information from our computers and smartphones utilizing malware and other mechanisms seemingly without our consent. But, did you know that the most common way for these mischievous criminals to access this data is for them to simply ask?

Although it may not be blatantly obvious to us, we can avoid the vast majority of cybercriminal activity by simply being cognizant of our online activity and the information we provide to unknown callers. Last year, the IRS saw a 60% increase in phishing scams that tried to steal money or tax data. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “phishing is when a scammer uses fraudulent emails or texts, or copycat websites to get you to share valuable personal information – such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, or your login IDs and passwords.” These criminals then use this data to access your accounts or attempt to steal your identity.

Luckily for us, there are many ways for us to combat these criminals. When available, you should always opt into two factor authentications when setting up an online account. This enhances the security of your account by requiring a code, which is usually sent via email, text message or telephone call, to be entered in addition to your username and password. Secondly, your pin numbers and passwords should always be something complex yet easy for you to remember. You should also have a unique password for each account to help ensure that all your accounts are not at risk if one of your passwords is compromised.  If you have trouble remembering your different passwords (like many of us), there are companies who offer online or telephone app password managers (such as LastPass, KeePass and RoboForm) to help you keep track of this information.

The bottom line is we need to be aware of our actions online and over the telephone.  Always confirm the sender’s email address and avoid unknown links and attachments sent from unfamiliar email addresses. Be careful what information you provide to unknown callers, even if they claim to be from a reputable company. Any caller who asks for personal information or is demanding an immediate payment should be deemed suspicious. Any time you feel uneasy about a phone call from someone claiming to be your bank, the IRS or any other entity that handles your financial matters, you should proceed with caution. It is okay to tell the caller you do not feel comfortable providing that information over the phone. It is always better to err on the side of caution and let the caller know you will call their company back. This will allow you to look up the company’s telephone number and be the one who initiates the call, rather than the other way around.


Bryson Slater, CFP