Know the Risks

Just about everyone uses email to communicate with clients, family, friends, and merchants. Email is quick and easy for anyone who can use a keyboard on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. The down side, however, is that communicating by email is not secure. Hackers of all ages and nationalities are able to exploit vulnerabilities in the system and hijack email addresses and their users’ passwords. If you receive a heart-rending email from someone you know claiming that he or she is in some far-off city and needs money to check out of a hotel, that person’s email account and contact list have been hijacked. If you ignore the bogus email, no harm done, and you will probably email the sender to let him or her know that you got the email. You will probably recommend changing the password and/or email address.

Where it gets more serious is when you send critical information by email without considering the risks. By “critical,” we mean information that could enable a hacker to inflict damage. Critical information includes your social security number, date of birth, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and any other information that would allow access to your financial holdings. Hackers have been known to send emails to banks, law firms, and other entities directing them to wire funds to a certain bank account. Hackers have even sent emails to individuals purchasing a home, directing them to wire funds to their lawyer’s trust account. The email appears genuine, but is fraudulent. The ABA (routing) and account number are the hacker’s. If the wire is sent, the funds go to the hacker’s account. The funds are quickly withdrawn and are never seen again.

Our recommendation: Before wiring funds, always contact the recipient by telephone and verify the ABA number and account number. If your Internet service provider offers encrypted email capability, we recommend that you look into it to minimize the risk of exploitation by hackers.