CFO Tom Gallagher surrounded by children
Volume 2 Number 51
December 19, 2005

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CONSUMER ALERT

GALLAGHER WARNS FLORIDIANS OF NEW SCAM TO STEAL CASH AND SECURITIES VIA PASSWORD THEFT

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, warned Floridians to protect themselves from a new scam designed to steal user names and passwords to drain online investment accounts.  It is estimated that up to $20 million in stocks, securities and cash has been stolen nationwide with this scheme.

Those losses are expected to increase dramatically as the spread of high speed and wireless connections makes it easier for hackers to steal personal computer identity information to gain access to online accounts.  An estimated $1.7 trillion is invested with online brokerages.

“The good news is that you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of these crooks,” said Gallagher, “but you have to be proactive.  The stakes are very high because these thieves can drain some accounts of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of days.”  Gallagher added that the key to stopping these scams is to install and update computer security software. “In fact, many brokers and firms are offering free and discounted security measures to their customers,” he said.

Computer crooks reportedly key into online accounts by using a key-logging program or a virus.  If they hack into an account they can sell some or all of the securities contained in the account and direct the brokerage to move cash into an account opened under the same name.  The cash can then be moved to an offshore account that is difficult to trace.  Gallagher said Floridians can shield themselves and their portfolios from these types of computer crimes by: 

  • Installing anti-virus software, spyware and firewalls to their PCs and wireless routers.  They should ask their brokerages if they provide any of these protections.
  • Using a password-protected wireless network connection.
  • Changing passwords frequently and making them tough to crack; never autosave passwords.
  • Not responding to e-mails that ask the user to verify account information.
  • Only accessing accounts from their own PCs – never from public computers.
  • Avoiding free downloads and music - thieves often plant spyware and viruses on these sites.

Floridians should call their brokers immediately if they think they may be victims of this crime and call the Department of Financial Services’ consumer service hotline at 1-800-342-2762.