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Why High-Income Individuals Should Protect Their Digital Footprint

Why High-Income Individuals Should Protect Their Digital Footprint
April 22, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO—Financial services companies and luxury goods retailers fawn over them. We used to call them millionaires or simply wealthy. In today’s lexicon they are referred to as high-net-worth individuals, or HNWIs. ThirdCertainty recently sat down with Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer of CyberScout, to discuss why HNWIs have become attractive targets to cyber criminals.

Q: What characteristics define high-net-worth individuals?

A: High-net-worth folks typically have support staff to help them with the little details of life, such as a personal assistant, a financial planner or a portfolio manager. And they usually also have very high credit ratings. However, unlike you and me, they don’t tend to rely on or use their credit very often. Rather than take a loan out for a car, for instance, they often just pay for it outright. As a result, they’re not checking their credit histories very often.

Q: And this makes them attractive targets?

A: Yes. Support staffers may have online access to financial accounts and sensitive personal data. So hacking a staffer is an effective way to get at the bigger fish. And fraudsters also realize that since no one is likely to be paying close attention to a credit history, there is likely to be a long lead time before anyone even realizes that a bogus account has been opened up, leveraging the victim’s name and good credit.

Q: To what extent are bad guys going after this segment of the population?

A: They’re definitely honing in on them. It’s a no-brainer. Bad guys go where the money is. And because high-net-worth individuals often are high-level executives or business owners who participate in high-profile activities, there is a lot of publicly available information about them. So it can be easier to ensnare and defraud them.

Q: The rise of social media probably doesn’t help.

A: Research has borne out that high-net-worth individuals use social networking and social media in some respects even more than the average Joe. These sites all are searchable and can be used as intelligence-gathering tools to attack that population class. Keep in mind, a lot of high-net-worth individuals are gatekeepers for large organizations. So the same intel gathering done to attack a victim’s personal accounts also can be used to exploit the company they work for.

Q: What can or should be done?

A: The same things we all should be doing. Reducing ones digital footprint is generally a good idea. But it’s especially important if you are a high-net-worth individual. A first step is to manage your social networks. Don’t overshare information. And if you’re not using your credit, look into doing a credit freeze that will lock down your credit files. If you have no plans to use your credit, there is no reason anyone else should have access to it.

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