More and more, retirement savings accounts are becoming an attractive target for thieves.
Hackers gain access to these accounts by stealing people’s identities and login credentials. Either they buy databases of stolen passwords, which are traded on shady forums, or they “phish” people. The latter category involves tricking people into revealing sensitive information, often using bogus emails and fake websites.
Last night, I discussed this threat on Fox 5 NY, the local Fox News broadcast station. I told Ernie Anastos, the show’s host, that people should be wary of inbound emails telling them to take urgent action, even when they appear to come from trusted sources. Many phishing emails look exactly like they came from the real deal: your bank, brokerage, or email provider. “You have an important message, log in here to read it.” How do you know the prompt is not a fake—a facsimile—sent by a hacker? It’s almost impossible to tell imposters apart.
For that reason, it’s always best not to follow the links in such emails. Instead, go directly to the sign-in page of the website in question; type the web address into your browser. Otherwise, you might be led into a trap.
Why target retirement savings? People spend their lives accumulating wealth in 401k and mutual fund accounts. Often they don’t monitor these accounts as closely as they do other bank accounts. Lots of people simply “set it and forget it,” making automatic contributions out of their paychecks and assuming that the pot is growing over the long term.
Hackers exploit the cover of darkness. So as not to trip any alarms, they withdraw funds little by little. A few thousand here, a couple thousand there—and soon they’ve drained a substantial amount. Scammers thrive in the places where no one is watching.
How often do you monitor your accounts? Maybe it’s time to get into the habit of regularly checking in. Even better: Make sure each account is locked with a strong, unique password.
Recycling is for plastic, not passwords.
Before I sign off, here’s a note from Adam Lashinsky:
The Fortune extended family lost one of its best Monday. Xana Antunes, a Fortune editor from 2003 to 2008, was a lively, wise, funny, caring, smart-as-hell soul. She was a tough but compassionate editor, a friend, a mentor, and a helluva newswoman. I’ll never forget a Xana-ism I think of all the time. She told me once that very often the critical nugget of a story, the kernel that demands further exploration that can lead to even greater stories, is buried in the 17th paragraph or so. It was simply a damn practical piece of advice that prods me to keep reading. She was 55 and leaves behind a husband and daughter, born right around the time mine was. Those of us who knew Xana are passing around stories about how much we enjoyed working with her and how much we loved her.