Protecting Your Personal Data and Money from Scammers

by: Smith and Howard Wealth Management

As a registered investment advisor, Smith and Howard Wealth Management helps our clients protect and grow their assets.  In the 21st Century, this includes protecting clients from Internet scams.

We have a number of resources that we use to protect our clients’ personal information and money. One is our online portal available through our website, which allows us to store and share information securely. But perhaps the most important security tools are more old-fashioned: 1) Picking up the phone and 2) Knowing our clients. While this is important to us for many reasons, when it comes to internet scams, that personal knowledge and communication become critical.

Emails have become one of the most often-used tools of scammers. These online criminals disguise themselves as a client in an attempt to secure personal information or even a transfer of funds. An example of an email we may receive is:

 “I’m travelling out of the country this week and just received word that my mother passed.  Can you wire $5,000 from my account to my sister so she can handle some of the funeral costs upfront?  I don’t have reliable cell service or I’d call to make the request.”

While on the surface, this may sound legitimate to an unsuspecting recipient, such emails are almost always fraudulent.  We find it very rare for our clients to request a third-party transfer via email and we strongly discourage the practice.

What We Do

Our first response when we receive an email like this is to pick up the phone and call our client.  We call even if the email suggests the client is not available via telephone.  Recently, Stephanie Roberts, one of our Client Service Specialists, received an email similar to the foregoing. When she called, we found our client working at her regular office.  She was astonished to hear about the email.  As Stephanie told that client, who was certainly grateful for the call, it is SHWM policy to require verbal confirmation for a third-party transfer.  This practice is also used by our custodians, the companies that hold our clients assets.

Another way we fight fraud is knowing our clients.  By speaking with our clients on a regular basis we build personal relationships.  Our client service specialists, Stephanie Roberts and Lisa Curles, both have enjoyed long tenures with the firm. They are often the first call to (or from) clients when fund transfers are needed. These relationships mean we can often tell when a message is fraudulent simply because it doesn’t sound quite right.  Where with a large corporate money manager, you may just be an account number, with us, you are a unique individual.  If something sounds “off,” if a message just doesn’t sound like our client, it grabs our attention and we contact them directly to investigate.

What You Can Do

Email is a wonderful convenience, but it is also an easy target.  Scammers hack into hundreds of accounts at once, hoping even one person will believe their tales.  Often fraudulent emails mention being out of the country and suggest an urgent need for cash due to a mugging, a death in the family, or another fabricated tragedy.  We are on the lookout for these messages and you should be too.  It is also important to keep your passwords private and avoid using a birthdate, pet’s name or another easily guessed code.  Never put an account number in an email and know that we will never send you an email asking for your account number or other private information.  If something seems suspicious, pick up the phone – it is always better to check.  Ultimately, partnership and communication are our best defenses against Internet scams.  Call anyone on our team at 404-874-6244 to learn more.