“We are vulnerable in the military and in our governments, but I think we’re most vulnerable to cyber attacks commercially. This challenge is going to significantly increase. It’s not going to go away.” – Mike Mullen, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Navy Admiral

While everyone knows the importance of cybersecurity and guarding against identity theft, relatively few of us know how to do anything about it. You can pay for credit protection, but all you really receive is a credit monitoring service. Rather than actually preventing identity theft, these services monitor your credit and alert you to changes. To be sure, this is better than nothing, as it is far easier to fix false credit information if you are aware of it in a timely manner. However, actually protecting your credit requires different steps.

The only way to actually protect your credit is to enact a credit “freeze.” This restricts access to your credit report which prevents credit from being extended in your name; however this also makes it a more complicated process when you do want to open a credit card, apply for a job, buy a house, etc. You will have to temporarily lift the freeze when you wish to apply for credit. While this process does not negatively influence your credit score, it does cost about $10 per credit agency each time you “freeze” or “unfreeze” your credit. For example, if you have a credit freeze with all three agencies and you would like to apply for a new credit card, you will need to call each agency and pay about $10 each to unfreeze access. Once you have been extended credit and you wish to freeze access to your credit report again, you will do the same in reverse. It will cost about $60 each time round-trip to do this, but if you are worried about unauthorized accounts being opened or credit extended this is the best prevention. For instructions on how to freeze access to your credit report, please visit the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.

While preventing unauthorized access to your credit can help prevent credit cards being opened in your name, it cannot prevent you from being the target of a scam. Hopefully, by now everyone knows not to send money to fake Nigerian princes and other scams that ask you to send money in exchange for future riches. Unfortunately, in recent years, these scams have become more complex and difficult to discern. One of the more common scams currently is a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent, demanding you pay them immediately. These scammers have been known to threaten victims with police arrest, deportation and more in order to frighten them into paying. They use the threat of falling into bad standing with the IRS to their full advantage. The IRS is very clear that they will not call you to demand payment. Legitimate IRS inquiries are handled through the mail.

At Avier, we take cybersecurity seriously and implement consistent protocols to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect our clients’ identities and prevent unauthorized access to their information. Because we maintain personal relationships with our clients, when given instructions to make a change to or take a distribution from an account we require that one of the client’s advisory team can verify their identity by voice. If this cannot be accomplished, we have implemented an additional layer of security questions which clients have customized to verify their identity rather than asking for standard identifying information that hackers and identity thieves could more readily access like birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, etc. In addition, we use a secure, cloud-based system to encrypt documents rather than simply attach them to emails. Because people rarely clear out their emails, if hackers gains access to your computer they will likely have many years’ worth of emails and attachments to download. Any documents we send clients have very limited availability for download.

In addition, do not forget the basics:
• Make sure to use and regularly update anti-virus and anti-malware software
• Do not open email attachments from someone you don’t know
• Check your account balances regularly
• Shred sensitive documents

Please consider taking some time to update your knowledge about cybersecurity and what measures you can take to truly protect yourself. It is important for businesses and individuals alike to be ever-vigilant when it comes to protecting confidential information.