Cyber criminals are evolving at an alarming rate. Cyber-security product developers are on an infinite loop with felons, each trying to out fox the other with regards to data breaches. Security is absolutely necessary for brick and mortar establishments due to a myriad of reasons, but in 2019, the name of the game is cyber-security. Not only are data breaches an efficient way to steal trade secrets and financial information from businesses, but they can also be done remotely. A proficient hacker or scammer can access a company’s vital company information from halfway across the world, and from that same location, can devastate the company. Within minutes, they can access financial information, trade secrets, distribution and delivery schedules, and private customer information. To prevent this from happening to your business, here are 5 cyber security measures every business should have:
This is Internet 101. Since the birth of the World Wide Web, we’ve been educating adults and children alike on the importance of having a strong password to access online accounts. Whether it’s a company’s financial information, or a Grubhub app on an executive’s phone, thieves can crack weak passwords to gain access. As such, it’s important passwords never contain personal information about an individual, especially if that information is visible on social media. Parents often include the name of their kids in their passwords, using their dates of birth for any numerical value requirement. Teens and young adults use the name of their favorite animal, sport, or music artist. Another common tactic is using common words that are easy to remember, and then spelling them backwards for a false sense of security. Experts at the National Cyber Security Alliance also do not recommend using sequences of characters that are near each other on the keyboard, such as “QWERTY,” the first six characters of the keyboard. The current recommended length for strong passwords is between 8-12 characters. If you’re unsure whether or not you password is secure, use an online password checker to verify the passwords level of cyber security.
Firewalls have been around almost as long as passwords. Firewalls are shields that protect your business from harmful or insidious traffic. When you connect to the internet, the system is constantly communicating with the wireless network, both sending and receiving units of information known as packets. Firewalls monitor these packets and perform a risk assessment, blocking unsafe packets. These firewalls protect your company’s data from unauthorized remote access by criminals.
Roland Cloutier, the Chief Security Officer for ADP, calls antivirus software “the last line of defense” when protecting your company’s data from hackers and other cyber-criminals. Not only can remote criminals access and view a company’s vital information, but they can also install vicious malware that will copy the target’s hard drive, and subsequently render the machine inoperable. Installing anti-virus and anti-malware programs aren’t enough, though. These programs need to be updated regularly as part of the infinite loop mentioned earlier. Every time a criminal finds a way to bypass an anti-malware product, the product requires changes to combat those breaches.
Laptops and Mobile Phones
It’s important to secure laptop computers and mobile smartphones associated with your business. For this, experts recommend encryption software so any remote felon attempting to access or copy the hard drive cannot do so without the proper password. They also stress the importance of never leaving these devices in ones vehicle, where they are easily accessible to thieves. “Lock-out” options are also standard for these devices in 2019. This setting allows you to establish a time period during which the phone lies idle. After that period expires, the phone locks itself, preventing anyone from accessing it without the password. Smartphones and laptops with remote-wipe features must be enabled. This way, if your device falls into the wrong hands, you can remotely wipe the device and prevent the leak of sensitive company information.
Last, but never least, it’s important your workforce is educated on the security measures in place and regularly enforces them on a day-to-day basis. Companies often neglect employee education under the false impression their IT team will be able to resolve all issues whenever they arise. The fact is, even IT professionals cannot anticipate every cyber threat, and may not be up-to-date on the very latest in cyber-criminal tactics. An ounce of this education is worth a pound of cure—Despite the level of technology literacy in the United States in 2019, an employer or business owner cannot assume an employee’s level of security knowledge. The prevention starts with employees, providing them with an intimate knowledge of company operations and how cyber security measures protect them.
Regardless of your company’s industry or size, all businesses must update and maintain their cyber security. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when criminals can bypass cyber security, and devastate a company in minutes.
The invention of direct-deposit payments in electronic banking have likely saved companies millions of dollars over the years in labor hours, materials, and fees that previously caused problems for companies. However, in an age where your paycheck is sent automatically to your checking account, phishers are seeking to exploit this automation for personal gain.
The Internal Revenue Service has reported an upswing in various types of fraud that directly target a company’s payroll. While the ruses come in many forms, one of the most popular is phishing emails disguised as legitimate correspondence from an employee or upper management. It’s always an instruction to alter payroll information so that funds would be rerouted to the scammer’s bank account. Once the deed is done, the money is withdrawn and the company is responsible to replace the missing funds. While the FTC and the IRS are constantly reevaluating their strategies for containing these types of fraud, this particular scheme is hard to detect and often goes unreported. The email can outsmart security measures set down by the company or within a company’s email server, and scammers take amounts that can just be written off as unfortunate missteps on behalf of personnel.
Frauds such as these have gone through an evolution as security technology becomes more sophisticated and what we know about internet culture continues to grow. Internet frauds used to be about volume and inattention to detail—thus the birth of phishers, who sent emails rife with spelling and grammar mistakes out to mile-long email lists, casting a wide net throughout the web. Education about fraud has forced scammers to be more cautious. Today, companies who have seen this scam in its newest form remark that these phishing emails look so authentic that there may not be a question in their mind before obliging their request. Security measures that have risen from the nucleus of electronic banking combat wire fraud every day in the United States. Large sums in wire transfers now throw up giant red flags. Phishers and scammers are getting more bang for their buck by taking smaller amounts with more frequency, lurking below the radar. This does not require sophisticated hacking skills. Just the ability to open a Gmail account. Phishers make the account look cosmetically convincing, then throw out the lure. One of the most targeted entities is non-profit organizations, because of the benevolent nature of their business. The idea of someone ripping off a charity or relief organization is horrifying, but the simplicity of scams like this make the opportunity too lucrative to pass up.
It’s frightening how simple the fraud is to pull off, but there is recourse for businesses who are vulnerable to such a scam. One of the non-profits who fell prey to this scam was KVC Health Systems, an agency for child welfare in Kansas City. Their IT director, Erik Nyberg, says it starts with comprehensive education on company procedures, “The CEO is never going to email you out of the blue and ask you for any deposit changes. And if you have any sliver of a doubt, call the person who is making the request.” He goes on to discourage executives and upper management employees from using their personal email accounts to send staff correspondence, and to set email filters that will catch suspicious incoming messages. Social media managers are also cautioned against posting any company information to their pages that could serve to bolster a phisher’s credibility.
If your business has been the target of this wire fraud scam, you are encouraged to report them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s IC3 tip line.
Being a responsible consumer in the year 2019 means educating yourself—not just on the products and services—but of the ways scammers and thieves exploit consumer behavior for their own financial gain. As technology advances with the convenience of SMS text messaging as a security feature, financial applications that put your finances at your fingertips, and the tangled world wide web, consumer fraud scams will only continue to mutate and evolve. Here are five of the most common types of consumer fraud scams to avoid in 2019.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Financial Fraud Unit, mortgage fraud exploits a consumer’s fear of losing their home to make a quick buck. Mortgage fraud schemes come in many forms, including but not limited to equity skimming, loan modifications, and foreclosure rescue schemes. The perpetrators behind these schemes are often former real estate professionals who use their intimate knowledge of mortgages to swindle homeowners in distress. Real estate agents who are currently employed can exploit their authority to bolster the validity of their scheme. The FBI and FTC advise that consumers should be wary of any unsolicited phone calls, emails, regarding their home finances, and never sign any paperwork or documentation that they do not fully comprehend.
Debit Card Fraud
Debit card fraud occurs when an individual’s debit card information is obtained to make fraudulent purchases. Debit card fraud is one of the most difficult schemes to avoid in day-to-day life, because so many Americans have gradually transitioned from carrying cash to carrying only their debit card as means of legal tender. Anyone with access to the debit card’s information—including the businesses and vendors we trust every day—can pull this information to commit a fraud. Unfortunately, the only recourse consumers have in protecting themselves is to avoid letting their card ever leave their sight, and to keep a watchful eye on their accounts and report any suspicious activity.
Perhaps one of the most despicable types of consumer fraud is charity fraud. Scammers set up shell organizations to receive donations that do not go to those in need, but rather line the scammer’s pockets. Frauds of these type spike significantly during the holidays and in the wake of natural disasters in order to exploit humankind’s benevolence. The name of the game with charities is research. Any charity worth its salt is going to stand up to a great deal of due-diligence and fact-finding. Part of being a responsible consumer is knowing where your money is going.
Winning the lottery is a dream of many Americans, with fantasies of kicking back and never having to put in another hard day’s work for the rest of their lives. Despite the wide range of demographics with these dreams, lottery fraud scams usually effect senior citizens in the United States. The scam usually begins with a letter or email letting the individual know they have won. The correspondence usually includes details about fees that are involved with receiving their winnings. The FTC warns that individuals who have won a legitimate lottery prize of any kind should never have to pay a fee to collect their winnings, and consumers should be suspect of any unsolicited correspondence stating as such. Consumers should also be advised that United States law does not support the sale and transference of international lottery tickets, so any correspondence from international lotteries is most certainly a scam.
Studies by Javelin Strategy & Research conducted over the last seven years indicate that in 2017, there were as many as 16.7 million Americans impacted by identity fraud, with $16.8 million in stolen funds and assets. Identity theft can be committed for a number of reasons. Perpetrators can steal an individual’s information with the purpose of starting over again under a different name, or to escape their creditors. Most commonly, however, identity fraud is simply committed with the explicit purpose of stealing money from American consumers. Once a scammer has an individual’s identifying information, like dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and their mother’s maiden name, they can use that data to make fraudulent purchases in the victim’s name, withdraw funds from their bank accounts, and destroy their credit, leaving them financially arrested. The aftermath of identity fraud is devastating and can cause shockwaves across decades with exponential consequences.
If you have been the victim of a consumer fraud scam, contact a private investigator today to learn how their unique set of skills and professional autonomy can help you locate the scammer in your midst. Call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation (317-951-1100) and a simple solution to your consumer crisis.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigation, fraud, and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.
Smartphones have become such an integral part of our everyday lives that many users joke their devices have become grafted to their hands. We use them to maintain contact in our work and personal lives, correspond through email and social media, and a bulk of Americans have made the transition to conducting their banking through the use of mobile applications. As developers continue their bottomless pursuit to create an app for everything, more and more of our real, flesh-and-blood lives are being stored on our phones: personal details, account numbers, passwords, and other sensitive information that could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands. That’s why smartphone users have to educate themselves on the specifics of a scam called “SIM card swapping.”
What is SMS?
For many telephone, internet, and smart device developers, SMS (short message service) text messaging is the cornerstone of their services. As of 2010, it was the most utilized service provided by communication companies with 3.5 billion users. It became a vital tool in direct marketing campaigns and remains one of the most popular forms of communication in younger users. Because of the ubiquity of smartphones, many companies that require a two-step authentication process for their users’ security implement SMS as a secure means of accessing information. For example, you attempt to log in to your bank account, correctly entering your username and secure password. It’s not uncommon for banking apps to prompt a second form of verification, so the app tells you it will now be sending a four-digit verification code to your phone that you must enter on the app to confirm that you are who you say you are. The code is sent to your phone via SMS. Once this information is transmitted over SMS, users are often derelict in deleting that information from their devices. This is where users are vulnerable to the scam.
How SIM swap scams work
Smartphone users who have lost their phone or who have been the victim of a theft often have the ability to call their mobile provider and provide their secure information in order to have the provider remotely wipe the SIM card and have that information transferred to another phone. Thieves in search of secure information will use tools like phishing mail campaigns, posing as legitimate companies like insurance and credit card companies to get the victim to willingly hand over identifying information such as date of birth, address, and phone number. Once they have enough identifying information, they will call the victim’s mobile provider and pose as a customer. They claim they’ve lost their phone or their phone was stolen from them. Then, using the victim’s identifying information, they will request that the mobile provider remotely wipe their old SIM card and rewrite it to the SIM card in their new device. Just like that, the thief has any and all information that has ever been transmitted via SMS text. This leaves accounts, email inboxes, and secure information vulnerable to fraud. “A high proportion of banking customers now have mobile phone numbers linked with their accounts,” fraud prevention consultant, Emma Mohan-Satta, told Digital Trends, “and so this attack is becoming common in some regions where this attack was not previously so common. Unlike mobile malware, SIM fraud attacks are usually aimed at profitable victims who have been specifically targeted through successful social engineering.”
Who is vulnerable?
Anyone who uses their smartphone as part of a two-step authentication is vulnerable to a SIM card swap scam. Once the thief has their hands on your personal information, they can devastate you in minutes by performing bank transfers, rerouting mail, and making purchases in your name. If the SIM card contained any compromising information, such as lewd photos or inappropriate communication with another person, the perpetrators can use that information to blackmail a victim into paying a tidy sum in exchange for the return of the compromising data. A victim named Tina told Motherboard, “This just happened to me over the weekend. I lost service late Saturday night and assumed it was an issue with my always buggy iPhone. Then on Sunday morning my husband got a text from T-Mobile saying that a line on our phone plan had been cancelled (mine) and i soon discovered that $1200 had wired out of my bank account to someone in [redacted] with my same last name.”
While the cost to a single individual can be devastating, a sophisticated thief can do even more to topple a business like a house of cards. It’s common practice for some types of employers to issue their employees a company cell phone to facilitate business, and in this day and age, that almost certainly means a smart phone. Correspondence between coworkers, appointments, account numbers, and sensitive company information can be exposed and exploited for gain. Companies that carry high financial sums in their accounts can be ruined before they even realize there’s a problem.
How to protect yourself
Dependence on smart phones to facilitate two-step authentication plagues many users throughout the country who enjoy the convenience of verifying their identity through SMS. Luckily, tech sites like Motherboard recommend a few ways you can protect your identity and your monies.
Beef up account security
Many major cell phone service providers are developing new methods of two-step authentication in light of the rise of SIM card swap scams. Many offer their customers the option to set up a secure PIN for their account, completely separate from the login information used to access their account. The PIN is used as a primary verification feature specifically for when customers call into the support center for SIM card-related issues. Previously, many providers opted for a security question for this type of authentication, but the answers to these security questions can often be found on a victim’s social media, such as, “Which high school did you attend?” This way, the PIN is never transmitted through SMS text messaging, and no personal information from a social media profile can be used against them.
Don’t link your number to your online accounts
Once a thief has access to your account, they can easily reset your password and other authentication methods, making it very difficult to quash the problem. Instead of linking your mobile cell phone to your accounts, you can choose a different sort of number, such as a Google Voice number.
Many individuals and companies bypass security measures for a number of reasons, such as lack of time, interest, or the mere belief that they could never be the victim of a SIM card swapping scam. The reality is that it can happen to anyone, and there’s no shortage of victims for scammers. Users who practice their due-diligence can build a security to block them out. When the scammer hits this wall, they simply move on to the next target. Educate yourself and ensure that target isn’t you.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information on investigation topics, missing persons, and corporate solutions, please visit our website.
Those who met their current significant other in an age before the internet often have a difficult time understanding courtship rituals in the year 2019. Even Gen-Xers who are navigating the single-scape are having trouble adjusting to the way social media and dating apps have changed the way relationships are formed in the United States. The internet has done wonderful things for the world of dating. It reignites old flames who haven’t seen one another since high school. It connects the dots between persons across the country. It brings together people from different walks of life for a far more interesting relationship. However, the anonymity of the internet and the potential to be whoever you want to be has fostered one of the most devastating types of scams that exist in the modern world: romance scams perpetrated by “catfish”.
If you follow internet culture, you’re likely aware of a television program called Catfish: The TV Show. The series is a continuation of creator Nev Schulman’s 2010 documentary simply called Catfish. The film followed Schulman’s journey through his own romance scam, in which he met a woman online named Megan through the internet. Megan claimed to be many things: a singer, songwriter, recording artist, photographer, rancher, and part of an equally-talented family. Through their online communications, Megan led Schulman to believe that her life was very picturesque, but tragically, she has cancer. After several attempts to finally meet Megan fall apart, Schulman and his production team make the trip to finally meet her and begin to realize along the way she may not be truthful about her identity. At the end of the film, Schulman and his team realize that there was never really a Megan. “Megan” was actually a middle-aged woman, Angela, who used the internet as a way of connecting with others in her insular life. The online identity of “Megan” was not entirely fiction—Angela did have a daughter named Megan, who was a photographer, and she used that piece of personal information to craft a persona that endeared her to men and garnered their attention on the internet.
Schulman’s story is unfortunately a common thread in today’s dating world. In 2011, a year or so after the documentary first premiered, studies showed that males between the ages of 40-49 and females between the ages of 50-59, made up the largest age groups effected by romance scams or “catfishing,” 28% and 35% respectively. In most confidence tricks, frauds, or scams, the goal is simply to rob an individual of their finances for personal gain. Catfish scams are particularly ugly, because it’s not just about money. A catfish’s target is often a trusting person, a benevolent person who might experience low self-esteem, and is often isolated from others for a myriad of reasons. That person makes a real emotional investment in the catfish with the intention and belief that they will spend the rest of their lives with that person when they finally meet.
“Catfish” is an appropriate name for this particular type of scammer, according to Special Agent Christine Beining, a seasoned financial fraud agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Houston Division. Even as recently as 2017, she says, romance scams were on the rise. According to the FBI’s website, in 2016, almost 15,000 complaints which fell under the umbrella of romance or confidence frauds were reported, which is 2,500 more than 2015. Beining characterizes a catfish in search of their next victim as throwing a fishing line, “The internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be. You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people. The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target. Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop.” She offers the example of a Texas woman who ended up sending a cumulative $2 million to a man she met over the internet who “said all the right things.” This catfish targeted the woman’s strong Christian faith, and capitalized on it to pull her into his web of deception. When scammers are using social media maliciously, how are we supposed to protect ourselves in a digital age?
One of the country’s best fraud watchdogs, the Better Business Bureau, conducted a study last year on the current climate of catfishing and other forms of romance scams. While there are some discrepancies among experts as to what defines a romance scam, four consistent stages of a scam emerge:
Contacting the victims
Like Christine Beining said, scammers use the internet as a fishing line, and create dozens of fake profiles online with stolen pictures and manufactured personas in the hopes of netting a handful of victims. They hope to form an instant connection with that person, usually though an alleged common interest based on information mined from the victim’s page or profile. A potential victim loves to ski? Suddenly that catfish also loves to ski, even if they’ve never been. After a short period of time, the catfish will often encourage the victim to move the conversation somewhere else, like texting or another instant-messaging platform. This way, if their profiles are flagged by the social media platform as a scam, they will still be able to contact victims already in the net.
Like any predator, catfish depend on grooming behavior to make the victim emotionally dependent on them. They learn about the victim’s life—their hopes, their dreams, their traumas, their family drama. This stage varies in length, but it can often go on for months as catfish attempt to build an impenetrable wall of trust around themselves and the victim. Endearing themselves so allows them to have credibility in the victim’s eyes when those around them might arch an eyebrow. In a further effort to telegraph their integrity, scammers might also send gifts to their victim as one of the hallmarks of a “real relationship.” This is the stage where scammers begin to test the limits of the victim. They ask for small favors, such as small cash amounts to buy groceries or pay the phone bill so their communication may continue. It’s also the stage where catfish begin to further isolate their victims from their friends and family so the fraud can continue unhindered.
This is where the predator’s bites out of a victim’s income become exponentially larger. In any romance scam, one of the most common plot points in the catfish’s narrative is an “emergency,” likely with themselves or a close member of their family for which they need a cash sum. It can be anything from hospital bills to a plane ticket. If the victim is always willing to send money, there’s no way to predict when the fraud will conclude. This is also where victims can find themselves in real danger. Victims who are not simply bilked out of their savings can easily get mixed up in things such as money laundering or larger scale frauds as an oblivious participant. In the most severe cases, victims get on a plane to meet the catfish and meet a violent fate at the hands of a person they thought was their sweetheart.
The fraud continues
Exposing a catfish does not mean the nightmare is over. There has been an increase in brazen catfish continuing the fraud after being unmasked, this time disguised as a good Samaritan who just wants to help the victim get their money back. They can take the form of a law enforcement officer or a private investigator. The original persona might also reach back out sheepishly—admitting that they had been caught, but what originally began as a con to get their money has now become true love. It’s not uncommon for victims to allow the fraud to continue, having acknowledged the catfish’s honesty.
If you’ve been the victim of a catfish or romance scam, contact a private investigator today to learn how they can help you expose the culprit. A private investigator’s skill set and lack of any bureaucratic ladder will allow the case to move swiftly and efficiently, as time can be of the essence when chasing a scammer, who can quickly pack up their tent and move on to another social media platform before law enforcement pins them down. Private investigators also have no jurisdictional restrictions within their cases, which is particularly crucial to exposing scammers who are operating outside of the United States. They can also empower you with crucial knowledge to prevent the cycle of fraud from continuing. While it may sound callous to some, the best rule of thumb is to never send money to an individual you have never met in real life. After all, the internet is not a substitution for face-to-face interactions. If you’ve connected with someone over the internet, and the chemistry is there, a genuine person will not have the resistance and excuses that catfish often do when the jig is up.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information, please visit our website.