How to Keep Your Investments Safe from Criminals

Investments are intended to provide security. They provide security of income, security of shelter and care in your final years. However, sometimes you need to provide security for your investments. In this article we’ll explain how to keep your investments safe.

Malevolent forces exist that would try to part you from your much-needed assets. These include petty thieves, hackers, identify thieves and online or telephone scammers. You need to keep your wits about you and set aside some time and attention to ensure that your investments are kept safe from criminals like these. 

Neglecting these precautions now (which may take less than an hour to achieve) could save you £50,000 or more in the long run. Take action while you can and you won’t live to regret it. 

How to Keep Your Investments Safe from Criminals

How to keep your investments safe from hackers

Hackers use viruses and other sneaky software to infiltrate your PC and monitor your activity or steal data. The key pieces of information they’ll be looking for are:

  • Your email address and password
  • Your investment account details, including login information

These two core sets of information may allow them to make unauthorised access to your investment accounts and redirect the funds to their own accounts. 

Steps you can take now to protect your investment from hackers

  1. The first line of defence: Antivirus software. 

Ensure that your PC, Laptop and other devices have professional and up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall. These features sometimes need to be actively turned on.

  1. Cautious behaviour

Don’t follow links in emails from unknown entities or open any attachments unless you’re sure that it’s safe. If you use Microsoft or Google email services, you may be able to open attachments in the cloud, i.e. completely within your browser. This is a careful way to look at some formats of attachments before you download them to your device. 

  1. Look for unwanted ‘gifts’

If downloading free software from the web, look carefully at whether any additional unwanted software is bundled with the app. This could include spyware which could arm hackers with the information they need. 

  1. Use strong passwords & two-factor authentication for investment and email services. 

The password is a simple but effective method that UK stockbrokers rely upon to secure your account. Ensure this protection is as strong as possible by using lots of unique characters and using a long password. Invent a brand new word that isn’t in the dictionary and add a memorable pattern of other characters before or after that word. 

Otherwise, use a completely randomly generated password suggested by your browser, and save your password in a safe place (such as writing it down).

An old rule of thumb advised people to never write down their passwords, but this is now seen as acceptable because it:

  1. Gives people the confidence to use a very long and unique password because they don’t have to remember it
  2. Protects the password from any hackers. Hackers can’t read your post-it note. 

Just be sure that the password is given as little context as possible that an outsider would use to understand what it’s for, in case you are the victim of a burglary. For example ‘Investments’ is a good clue for what the password is for, but doesn’t specify the provider. 

How to keep your investments safe from scammers

Scammers, also known as con artists, may try to trick you into voluntarily handing over usernames & passwords to your stocks & shares ISA accounts

You may receive an email or a phone call from someone who claims to work for a bank or your financial institution. This individual may ask you to provide them with details ‘for security purposes’, and provide them access to your account live on the phone to enable them to ‘transfer the money to a safe account’ as your funds are currently under attack from a criminal. 

This is a common form of scam that has cost people tens or in some cases hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Steps you can take now to protect your investment from scammers

  1. Apply scepticism to any contact from your bank or investment provider

Understand that there are very few reasons why a bank or investment company would ever proactively contact you, and therefore any interaction should be regarded with a high level of suspicion. 

For example, it is perfectly possible to buy shares in an investment account and be left uncontacted for years and years. The job of a stockbroker is to act as a quiet custodian of your assets, so there isn’t much need to contact you and ask you to take action.

If someone rings and claims to be from the bank and you have doubts, you can ask for their name and job title and explain that you will call them back via their main phone number. You can then end the call.

Next, independently look up the phone number for your provider (such as the number on the back of your debit or credit card to contact your bank). Using a different phone if possible, ring the number and ask to be connected to the person you were speaking to. 

This is a fool-proof series of steps to verify that you are genuinely speaking to someone from the bank or stockbroker in question. One thing to be aware of is that scammers have been known to not allow the call to be disconnected, then play fake ringtones to make the victim think that they are placing a different call to a different number (this applies to landlines only). This is why you should use a different phone, preferably your mobile phone, to ring back. 

How to keep your investments safe from identity thieves

In a case of identity theft, a scammer could contact your investment provider and provide just enough information to convince them that they are the true owner of the account. Once through the security checks, they could conduct transactions, change the bank account associated with your profile, and potentially make withdrawals. 

Steps you can take now to protect your investment from identity theft

  1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to browse the internet

For £2 – £5 per month, you can subscribe to a VPN service that acts like a shield around your internet usage. A VPN network routes your internet data via a variety of unique servers before reaching you. It effectively anonymises your footprint on the web and protects information from interception. 

A VPN is a privacy screen that can be a cost-effective way to reduce the risks of identity theft. 

  1. Be wary about what information you post online

Social media platforms naturally encourage us to share as much information as we can. Rarely would we include our debit card number in a tweet, or disclose our account number in a Facebook post. However, little by little, small pieces of information can leak out which culminate in enough pieces of the puzzle for an identity thief. 

For example, you might include your email address in a post asking for others to contact you if they see a missing cat. This could be a widely shared post. 

The answers to account ‘secret questions’, such as Mothers maiden name, first pet name, first school, etc may all be disclosed somewhere in the 1,000s of posts you’ve made in the last decade or so. All it takes is a search and these answers may rise to the surface.

Your date of birth may also be in the public domain, albeit in pieces. Your Facebook profile might disclose your Birthday – that’s half the issue. Posts by others on your wall will probably reveal your age. 

Therefore it’s possible that a determined criminal prepared to spend some time searching through your profile could find your name, date of birth, email address and answers to the various secret questions that could allow them to unlock your account.

  1. Apply maximise privacy settings on social media

On Facebook, you should ensure that limited information is shared to people who you haven’t accepted as a friend. This should ensure that the content of your posts and photos are not floating in the ether for anyone to find. 

Please be aware that the privacy settings on some social networks are quite complicated, and in some cases, it is quite possible for others to share your posts widely even if you thought that your profile was private. It’s worth going through the detailed settings to double-check that your profile is as locked down as you previously thought. 

Remember, even though stockbrokers are highly regulated, there are savvy criminals who are working hard to circumvent controls that brokers put in place to keep them out.

How to keep your investments safe from physical theft

Some investments, such as precious metals, bearer bonds, and physical share certificates are susceptible to theft from thieves. 

Whether through a regular opportunistic burglary or a planned and organised heist, these assets are vulnerable to being taken. You may have no recourse against anyone in the event of a loss. 

Steps you can take now to protect your investment from physical theft

  1. Secure your assets

Don’t take security lightly. Secure your assets through traditional means, be it through a safe or the use of a third party safe deposit box service. 

Simply ‘hiding’ your valuables is not sufficient, because burglars may turn over the place if they have enough time. If they’re experienced thieves, they will have a sixth sense for finding hiding places. 

  1. Consider insurance

Your home insurance should be designed to cover valuable contents such as precious metals and any certificates of value. 

Don’t assume that your policy will cover such items through the valuables clause. Ensure that you disclose very clearly the value and type of assets to receive confirmation that your policy will payout in the event of a theft. 

It’s too late to discover that your policy excluded gold bars after you’ve lost 10 troy ounces.

3. Be careful with your words

Do you know who your friends are? Some people become victims of theft after they talk widely and freely about the valuables at their house.

Perhaps you’re at a gathering or a large party – could someone with ulterior motives overhear your conversation? Reconsider whether you really need to share the fact that you have valuables at home. Friendships can sour, and some allies may not be as honourable as you think they are.

We’re not encouraging you to treat everyone like a foe, but it’s worth just thinking twice before you declare to a party full of strangers that you happen to be a collector of fine diamonds.

How to keep your investments safe

We hope that this article has provided you with many ways to avoid investment scams and keep your investment safe from criminals. For official resources, take a look at the warnings published by the FCA in recent years.