The phone rings. For Janice, it’s a welcome sound after being cooped up all day due to the pandemic. On the other end is a friendly DirectTV representative letting her know about a new promotion they have with Walmart that will save her 25% if she pays her bill using gift cards. Always on the look-out for a good deal, especially around the holidays, she drives to her local store, purchases the cards, and calls DirectTV back so they can enter them in their system. The accounting department informs Janice that, unfortunately, a couple of the gift cards aren’t working and advises her to go back to the store to purchase new cards. Janice purchases multiple gift cards and gives the codes to DirectTV.  She looks forward to her discounted bill.

Fast forward a few days later when she checks her bill and notices that the phone number is different than the one she had called. Janice soon learns that no such gift card promotion exists at DirectTV and that she has been a victim of a phone scam. But, by that point, Janice has lost over $1000.

This is a story that actually happened to someone in the Modera community and is not an isolated incident. In a similar situation, someone received a call from Apple Support saying she’d been hacked and needed to scrub her iPad. Because the caller was able to relay some personal information about her, it seemed legitimate. Within minutes, she inadvertently forfeited $300 and allowed the caller to access sensitive information from her device.

So, with many of us holiday shopping or needing to check online accounts as we take care of year-end to-do items, here are some important tips to remember:

  • Be cautious of gift cards. Gift cards are becoming increasingly popular because they offer convenience. One source states that the global gift card market will continue to grow over 15% per year through 2027 to become a $2 trillion market.1 Unfortunately, they are popular with criminals as well, as seen in the story above. Other gift card scams include:

    1. receiving an unsolicited email or text offering you a free $100 gift card if you “click on the following link;” or
    2. unknowingly purchasing a physical gift card that has a compromised scratch-off film strip; a cybercriminal may have accessed the code and is waiting for you to purchase it.

    To help avoid these scams, buy gift cards directly from the retailer and inspect them for signs of tampering; never use cards to pay for another third-party service; and do not share any information about those cards with others.

  • Think twice when communicating with vendors. Whether over the phone or via email, make sure the person on the other end is who they say they are. Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in emails unless you trust the sender, double-check URLs, and only use phone numbers printed on your credit cards or bills.

  • Consider freezing your credit. Freezing your credit blocks all potential creditors from accessing your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze it later.  While it may take time– maybe 30-60 minutes to contact all three credit agencies – doing so is free and does not affect your credit score. After receiving your freeze request, each credit bureau will provide you with a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Remember to keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you decide to lift the freeze. (Note: if you are planning to apply for new loans/credit lines, we recommend waiting before requesting a freeze.)

  • Use multiple layers of authentication, wherever possible. “Two-factor” authentication requires you to enter your regular account password, followed by a temporary code texted to the phone or email linked with that account. Some companies, such as Fidelity, have implemented “voiceprint” security: a combination of physical and behavioral voice patterns which, like a fingerprint, is unique to you. The IRS is also doing its part to make sure your information is secure. Starting January 2021, they will be rolling out an Identity Protection PIN Opt-In Program. This new IP PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers to help prevent cybercriminals from stealing your social security number to file a fraudulent income tax return. We encourage you to discuss the program further with your tax return preparer.

  • Use the Modera Client Hub. Finally, as a reminder, please use the Modera Client Hub to securely send us documents that contain important financial or personal information, such as your social security or account numbers. Never use your regular email for such correspondence.

As always, please reach out to us with any questions. To learn more about what Modera Wealth Management is doing to protect your financial and personal affairs, read our attached brochure titled Protecting Investors from Cybercrime or our recent article Covid-19 and Cyber Health: “Think Before You Click.”

1 https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/gift-cards-market#:~:text=The%20global%20gift%20cards%20market,15.4%25%20from%202020%20to%202027

Modera Wealth Management, LLC (“Modera”) is an SEC-registered investment advisor with places of business in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Modera may only transact business in those states in which it is registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration requirements. SEC registration does not imply any level of skill or training.  For information pertaining to our registration status, fees and services, please contact us or refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure web site (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov) to obtain a copy of our disclosure statement set forth in Form ADV Part 2A. Please read the disclosure statement carefully before you invest or send money.

This article is limited to the dissemination of general information about Modera’s investment advisory and financial planning services that is not suitable for everyone. Nothing herein should be interpreted or construed as investment advice nor as legal, tax or accounting advice nor as personalized financial planning, tax planning or wealth management advice. For legal, tax and accounting-related matters, we recommend you seek the advice of a qualified attorney or accountant. This article is not a substitute for personalized investment or financial planning from Modera. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed herein will come to pass, and the information herein should not be considered a solicitation to engage in a particular investment or financial planning strategy. The statements, information and opinions expressed in this article are subject to change without notice.

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