3 cyber scams you should know about

You may have taken basic steps to protect yourself online, but don't get lulled into a false sense of security: Scammers and cyber thieves come up with new ways to steal your data, identity and money every day, and are showing no sign of slowing. Topping the list of common scams targeting the wealthy these days are email hacks, romance scams and tech-support fraud.

By understanding how these crimes work and recognizing the warning signs, you can increase your odds of avoiding them. Follow these tips from Jamie Howard, UBS Deputy Head of Fraud Risk Management and Investigations, to help you protect your identity and your wealth.

Email hacks

One increasingly common scam is email hacking, Howard says. In this crime, a scammer secretly gains access to your email account, reading your messages to learn as much as he can about your writing style and common financial transactions. That way, the scammer can do a better job of impersonating you convincingly over email when initiating a fraudulent transaction.

"They'll try to match your past disbursement behaviors," Howard says. For example, if you frequently have $5,000 disbursements from an account, the fraudster will do the same.

UBS has robust controls in place to verify your identity and the authenticity of your transactions. That includes having a conversation with you directly to confirm when you've authorized a disbursement by email, among other steps (see sidebar for more details).

Howard also recommends strengthening your passwords to keep hackers from gaining access in the first place. Use a mix of letters, numbers and special characters that would be impossible for someone to guess.

And consider using a password manager, which encrypts and stores your passwords. Then you need to remember only one password to access the stored ones.

"One of the most commonly used passwords is still 'password'," because it's easy to remember, Howard says. "Don't make it so easy for criminals."

Making sure it's you

Crimes like email hacking underscore the importance of being prepared for cyber threats and protected from fraud.

At UBS, we take a number of steps to verify your identity and the authenticity of your transactions. As a result, when requesting transactions in your account, clients may:

  • Receive a call from their branch team or a UBS central fraud team to verify a specific transaction and/or third party information before payment is released;
  • Be called by someone from their branch team to reconfirm their instructions;
  • Receive a call back to confirm instructions or transaction information at the time of execution (Please note: this call back will only be made to a number listed on our records); or
  • Be asked to participate in a three-way call for transactions involving third parties such as escrow or mortgage companies.

Our fraud protection and detection policies have been put in place to help us in our efforts to protect your security and are designed to be as minimally intrusive as possible.

Additionally, to find out more about what you can do to safeguard your own personal information and online activities, please review our cyber security checklist(PDF, 129 KB)

Romance scams

Those looking for companionship online should beware: Scammers are looking to win your trust and affection, so they can eventually steal your money. Victims of so-called romance scams, also known as confidence fraud, are predominantly older widowed or divorced women who, for the most part, are educated and computer literate, according to the FBI.1

Criminal groups located abroad will often troll online obituaries, looking for recently bereaved widows to target, using the personal information they find on social media to strike up a conversation. Over the course of weeks or months, the relationship can evolve into what seems like friendship and even romance. Eventually, the scammers convince you to wire them money for airfare so they can come visit—only to suddenly disappear from your life once they get the funds.

"Sadly, this is a really evil targeting of people who are incredibly vulnerable and lonely, and who are quite susceptible to fraud," Howard says.

This devastating Internet crime is growing more prevalent. In the U.S., confidence fraud accounted for the second highest financial losses of all internet-facilitated crimes in 2017, with $211 million in total reported losses, the FBI said. The law enforcement agency's Internet Crime Complaint Center said it received over 15,000 complaints last year, a nearly 6% increase over the previous year.2

Howard advises being careful with anyone you meet online, especially if they ask for money.

"You really have to question people's motives. Be aware that there are criminals on the internet who are seeking to defraud you," he says.

Tech-support fraud

A tech-support representative calls you at home and tells you there's a problem with your computer that needs to be fixed right away, otherwise you'll lose your data. You didn't know you had a problem in the first place, but you listen because he's calling from a well-known company like Apple or Microsoft. So begins the typical tech-support scam.

In this con, the fraudster poses as an employee of a reputable company and tricks you into granting remote access to your device after you've paid an upfront "support" fee. Once in your system, the scammers are often just a few clicks away from breaking into your accounts and raiding your files for personal data that can be used to steal your identity and commit fraud.

In some cases, you might go months without even knowing you've been hacked, all while the scammers patiently monitor your activity. "It's like having someone secretly looking over your shoulder every time you use your computer," Howard says.

In 2017, the FBI received nearly 11,000 complaints related to tech-support fraud, with claimed losses amounting to nearly $15 million—a 90% increase from 2016.2,3

To avoid becoming a victim, install antivirus software and make sure it remains up-to-date. Software updates on your device should be set to automatic. And, above all, remember that computer service providers will never call you offering unsolicited tech support.

"Don't take phone calls from these guys," Howard warns. "One-hundred percent of the time they are a scam."

Are you doing everything you can to protect and grow your wealth? Together we can find an answer. Contact your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.


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UBS Financial Services Inc. is a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC.