Cybercrime, always a new angle
It's no wonder this is the most common blog post I write about. Criminals are ruthless, cutthroat, and outright brutal. Any type of crime is painful if you're a victim, but cybercrimes are difficult to trace and enforce. The best way to protect yourself is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
How are thieves so good at getting you to cough up your information? Easy. They want you to act on emotion, not common sense or logic. Demanding a quick response with a deadline to act is effective. It doesn't allow you to have time to think. Before you know it, the information is passed on and the thieves have access to a lot of information.
Keep in mind there are thousands and thousands of fake websites posing as the IRS. That is an example of just one site and the list goes on and on. It's fast and easy to set up a website, email, and fake e-commerce account these days. Once the scam runs its course, they simply shut down the site and move on to the next. Keep in mind the official website is WWW.IRS.GOV.
Some simple tips to help safeguard your important information:
1. Credit Freeze - set up a credit freeze on all 4 of the credit reporting agencies. It's quick, easy, and free to protect your credit profile. When you're ready to apply for lending you can request a temporary lift of the freeze. The request won't impact your score or any existing lines of credit or loans you have. Be sure to keep your PIN in a safe, discrete place because you'll need it when you're ready to lift the freeze.
2. The IRS does NOT text, call, or email you! If they want to reach out to you it will be by mail. Never click an attachment that appears to be from the IRS or federal government. Clicking links or attachments pose the risk of downloading malware, spyware, or gaining control of your files and holding them ransom.
3. Beware of links or attachments even sent from one of your friends and family. Their email could have been hacked. Getting access to someone's email account could allow them to send out mass emails to contacts for spyware or malware to be spread. Remember you can always hover over the sender to reveal the actual email or click and hold if using your cell phone.
4. Always log in to your accounts by typing in the address directly or using your bookmarks. Don't use any links in email or text. They may look legitimate, but it's fairly easy to duplicate a login page for users to deliver their information to hackers.
5. Setup financial alerts via text or email to get up to date information about money transfers or ACH's etc. You'll get instant updates on any changes going on with your accounts.
6. Establish multifactor or two-form authentication via phone or app generator for all sites and apps that allow the option. This will add an additional step to protect unauthorized access.
7. Be sure your phone has a pin to unlock it. It seems simple enough, but you may notice half the people have and half don't.
8. Download apps for your phone from the official Google Play Store or Apple iTunes. Do not in any case trust a third-party site to download apps to your phone. The apps have been proven to be even safer than traditional web browsing because of their dedicated, secure, and limited functionality.
9. Keep your phone and PC with the latest software update. It will keep your system safe and running at optimal performance.
10. Use a crosscut shredder to destroy anything that may contain sensitive information in it. Any other cutter will not be a safe option for you to trust.
Thieves at it again
You're confined to your home with not much else to do but work, watch tv, video calls, and spend time with the family; immediately family that is. Don't forget about shopping. The online purchases across the board have been trending upward for the past decade and I don't see that trend breaking anytime soon. The virus has certainly accelerated all types of activity online because there are really not many options. People are looking for things that just aren't available and that's forcing them to look to other stores. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites are home to predators hosting bogus sites posing as valid ones. This is probably the most common topic I write about and talk about, but it doesn't matter how many time's it's shared. People, friends, family, clients, get caught up in the moment or the promise that they'll find what they're looking for.
It's not only about fake websites offering products they don't have. They're looking for more; maybe your login credentials for your bank accounts, Paypal, or digital currency. We've seen a huge uptick in the recent fraudulent activity and thieves know they have you right where they want you; at home with your laptop. Even in our industry, thieves have attempted to send out mass mailings appearing to be from FINRA.ORG by using a similar domain which looks almost the same.
What can you do to protect yourself? For starters, slow down! We're all in a hurry to do things faster and easier, but it's costing some of us more than it should. Scammers know that we're in a hurry and want to do things with a few clicks and be on with our day. Usually looking at the contact us section, a few obvious ones to look for are the email address, ways to contact them, and the physical address of the business. I looked up a very believable site and found its address to be in the middle of a cemetery in New Jersey. That's no joke. Thieves also want to set up a site quickly, cash in and shut down the operation, duplicate it, and start over. Banks and credit card companies are inundated right now because of the virus and even disputing a debit card charge takes a little longer. I would recommend using Pay Pal or a credit card so that if you need to dispute things, you're using the banks' funds until things are cleared up. All in all, just be sure to take a few extra steps if you're ordering from a non-common site and make sure you inspect emails carefully. Be safe and I hope this helps a little to steer clear of the malicious cowards who look to prey on innocent people.
Safer ways to get Income
This morning we had the luxury of speaking to Don Schatz, a portfolio manager and head of fixed income at Voya Financial along with Ryan Barnett and Johnathan Papac. There was a lot to talk about given the current interest rate environment, impact on corporate debt, the oil crisis, and the need for clients and investors to get a steady income stream. We are happy about our partnership with the firm, their insight, and the time they took to discuss the world of fixed income.
A number of their investment options make sense in our portfolios and meet the criteria for what our clients are looking for to help reach their goals. Our overall allocation to fixed income has been lower than we would traditionally like to see over the past decade, but it has been challenging to justify an increase given the low rates and risk/reward in other areas of investment. In the fixed-income world, we are tasked with delivering the best for our clients. That has forced us to be extremely disciplined and selective in the types of bonds and fixed income we dedicate assets to. As we look to rebalance and check the needs and goals of our clients seeking income, we think a non-traditional income offering is a good place to start.
Don and the team were able to share some insight and give some perspective from the Voya team. There are a number of changes that they've made to the fixed income portfolios that should prove fruitful in the coming months ahead. Like most, there are looming concerns as the virus continues to keep business shut down and put less money into motion. We share the same thought process that rates will remain low for the unforeseen future and some areas of fixed income should be avoided or reduced. Covid-19 has effected both equities and fixed income, but that doesn't stop the need for investors seeking income. We believe fixed income does have a place in a portfolio and we continue to have conviction in the areas that we have put capital to work.