October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Nobody can give a better lesson on protecting yourself from fraud crimes than Frank Abagnale, Jr.
You might remember the book or movie, Catch Me If You Can, the biographical crime story of Abagnale as a young fraudster. But for some 40 years since, Abagnale has worked for the FBI and become one of the world’s most respected experts on forgery, embezzlement, fraud and identity theft.
I was pleased to chat with Mr. Abagnale this week before the taping of “Stealing Your Life” for Iowa Public Television. The IPTV segment airs November 13 at 8pm.
Abagnale is good. It’s well worth your time – and identity – to listen.
Abagnale’s story is fascinating: Surprised by his parents’ divorce when he was 15, he left 10th grade and became a con artist in New York City. Before he turned 21, Abagnale had mastered check fraud well, traveled the world and successfully impersonated a doctor, lawyer and Pam Am pilot.
Abagnale was eventually caught in Europe and imprisoned for several years before the U.S. government shortened his sentence in return for advising the FBI on fighting fraudsters. In fact, he has turned down pardons from three presidents to continue working with the FBI.
According to Abagnale, “The same scams committed today were done 50 years ago, but the internet makes it a thousand times easier.” As a result, fraud claims a new victim every 2 seconds. Cybercrime is common news now.
“We’ve had 1,206 security breaches,” he said, mentioning that the brunt of Equifax’s recent negligence won’t be felt for several years to come.
“Every breach occurs because a hacker found an opening, a weakness in security. Hackers do not cause breaches – people do. In fact, 99% of all ransomware comes from an email” where the victim chooses to click on it.
Here’s key advice Abagnale practices himself:
- He shreds everything. Abagnale specifically uses a “security micro-cut” shredder so it’s virtually impossible to reassemble the shreds.
- He uses a credit monitoring service. “Though Equifax is offering this free for a year, consider how negligent they’ve already been with your information and ask yourself if this is the best choice,” Abagnale cautioned.
- He doesn’t write many checks. “Too many others can see and use all that information printed on your check and even order new checks themselves,” he said. Abagnale prefers paying by credit card, because his liability (by law) is zero for reported fraud and his own money is not at risk.
- He doesn’t have a debit card. “Young people rely too much on a debit card because it’s convenient,” which he said is not a good idea. “Debit cards compromised at ATMS (on bank property) jumped 174% (in 2015), and attacks at non-bank locations are up 317%.” Breaches are increasing, and a hacker can takeover and/or withdraw your entire account.
Since this is Cyber Security Awareness Month, what exactly is considered a cybercrime? They fall into three categories:
- Identity theft – using someone else’s personal information.
- Phishing attacks – using email to infect computers/mobile devices with malware or viruses or to extract personal data.
- Imposter scams – phone calls or emails to get you to send money (or personal account info) to help a relative or friend.
Here are free government resources on protecting yourself against these cyber threats:
- FCC – security checker for your smart phone; pdf of FCC tips here.
- US-Cert.gov – for common security issues
- National Cyber Security Alliance – how to stay safe online
- Homeland Security – info on free anti-virus software, removing malware, etc.
- Federal Trade Commission – resources for online security
- Project iGuardian – ICE/Homeland Security to help children and teens
You can also find more online safety tips here.