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Hackers targeting retirement accounts: Here's how to protect yourself

Cyber criminals are targeting more 401k's, IRA's and Roth IRA's so they can hack more of your money. Simple tips to protect your nest egg.

MINNEAPOLIS — If you have money in a retirement account, you may be at risk.

Financial advisors say hacks against 401K's and other retirement accounts are on the rise.

“If you get away with a handful of these criminals can quickly accumulate a lifetime’s worth of money,” cybersecurity expert Bryce Austin says.

Bryce Austin with TCE Strategy says it's a growing problem in the world of cybersecurity.

During a recent conference, The National Association of Plan Advisors (NAPA) stated that in 2018, the number of retirement account hacks tripled, saying criminals are “moving away from card fraud to retirement accounts and loan accounts.”

Austin says the hackers can get into your account one of two ways.

"One, is that a cyber-criminal gets a hold of your credentials with the financial institution and pretends to be you and tries to get the money out,” Austin explains.


“The other way is they convince you do to it on their behalf and you have to be wary of both."

Austin says the latter happened to a Harvard professor last year.

A hacker claiming to be with the Massachusetts Police said her accounts were at risk and she should move hundreds of thousands of dollars into to a safe account.

"It was all a scam and because she deliberately did it there was no recourse. Her life savings was just gone," Austin says.

The first way to protect yourself, don’t fall for it if a person calls or emails you and tells you to take money out of your account.

Secondly, make sure you have good passwords and usernames.

And make sure your financial advisor has a plan to protect your private information.

Lastly, Austin recommends setting up use multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts.

“Multi-factor authentication is where you log-in with a username and password and if the computer you use is new, the system says hey, I see it’s a valid credential, but I haven’t seen you log in from here before, so I’m going to ping your phone and ask if this is okay,” Austin explains.

Good news is, hacking a retirement account isn’t easy.

Not only do the hackers have to figure out your username and password they also have to go through several additional barriers to withdraw money from your retirement account.

If you’re under retirement age your financial institution will also require additional paperwork that will warn you about any additional fees and penalties you might have to pay if you withdraw your money early.

Austin says those extra procedures may help you stop a hacker from getting your money, but he says if the hacker is bound and determined enough, they might still get in.

“If you’re a senior you’re at a higher risk, because there are less hurdles to go through, but this can happen to anyone at any age,” Austin says.

401k accounts are also more difficult to hack, because they often require additional paperwork from your employer in order to access your money, but they can also be hacked if the hacker has the right information.

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