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Cybercrooks Are Targeting Retirement Accounts

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Hacker working on computer cyber crime (Imager via Shutterstock)

Cybercrooks Targeting Retirement Accounts

When she logged in to view her account in November, she expected to see a balance of more than $80,000. Instead, she saw a balance of only about $8,000.

“I was very shocked by that. I thought there must be some mistake here,” she said.

She soon found out it was no mistake.

“Indeed, my money had been systematically withdrawn over the past couple of months,” Bennett said she learned after contacting her employer’s retirement plan adviser and the mutual fund company that held the money.

Someone had stolen her identity and was able to pose as her, changing Bennett’s mailing address, redeeming big chunks of her mutual funds and having checks mailed to new locations – first to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and then New York City. A bank cashed the first two checks, but when Bennett discovered the heist, payment was stopped on a third check.

But another shock was still in store for Bennett.

When she contacted a representative at the mutual fund company, no immediate guarantee was made that she’d ever see that money again.

“When I tell people they’re like, ‘What?’ And then the next thing is, ‘Well, surely they have to make sure you get your money back.’ And then when I say, ‘Well no, no one will tell me I’m going to get my money back,’ that’s when it gets scary. And that’s when you get people’s attention,” Bennett said.

Unlike with stolen credit cards, a saver’s losses to fraud in retirement investment accounts aren’t limited by federal law, although mutual fund companies typically say they’ll reimburse funds lost to fraudulent activity.

It’s an issue to be aware of as cyberattacks on retirement funds rise.

“Hackers are finding it’s getting harder to hack bank accounts, so they’re saying where else is there more money? Where can we go? And they’ve started to discover 401(k) accounts, they’ve started to discover retirement funds,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Research Interest Group.

At a 2019 forum for institutions involved in retirement planning, industry expert Larry Goldbrum, of Reliance Trust, told attendees that while overall cyberfraud and account fraud was down – cyberfraud amounted to $14.7 billion in 2018 – fraud in retirement accounts was rising, according to a report by the National Association of Plan Advisors.

Cybercriminals today are “looking for any possible route into people’s financial transactions, and they are increasingly focusing their efforts outside financial institutions’ firewalls,” said Steven Silberstein, chief executive officer of Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry consortium dedicated to reducing cyber-risk in the global financial system.

“In other words, directly at the public,” Silberstein said. “E-mail compromises, spear phishing and social profiling are some of the key tactics being used to target all types of assets, including retirement accounts.”

In spear phishing, cyberbandits send emails, purportedly from a known or trusted sender, in the hope of persuading potential victims to reveal confidential financial information.

The good news in Bennett’s case is that American Funds, the mutual fund company that holds her retirement savings, has agreed to restore the money she lost, even though at first Bennett said representatives gave her no assurance of reimbursement.

Still, what happened to Bennett serves as a cautionary tale that people with 401(k) accounts and other types of retirement savings accounts need to be on guard.

“The scenarios continue to evolve, so while our nearly 7,000 member financial institutions are constantly developing their cyberdefenses, it’s also critical for consumers to practice good cyberhygiene and be on the lookout for suspicious activity,” said Silberstein, of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

When crooks gain entry to consumer bank and retirement accounts, the point of entry more often than not is the victim’s email account, said Kevin Bong, director of cybersecurity for the accounting and consulting firm Sikich. Oftentimes, people’s account passwords, obtained in data breaches and then sold on the “dark web” to cybercriminals, are used to break into an email account and take it over without the victim knowing it.

“We’re definitely seeing that by getting just that one account – usually your email account – they use that to figure out, ‘Here’s my bank, here’s where my retirement accounts are,'” Bong said. “You’ve probably got a different password on your retirement account than you do on your email address, but what do you do if you forget that password? Well, you click ‘Forgot Password’ and they email a link to reset your password. So with access to your email address, they really have access to all those other things in a lot of cases.”

Bennett doesn’t know how a crook got into her American Funds account and started draining it. American Funds said its system wasn’t hacked, and that it sends out notices via postal mail when things like changes of address take place online.

Bennett is executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Her retirement savings tool is what’s known a Simple Plan, a tax-deferred, employer-sponsored account with some similarities to 401(k) and 403(b) plans that is tailored for smaller employers.

Asked about Bennett’s case, American Fund issued a statement: “Our mission is to help people save for a secure retirement. When one of our customers is the victim of identity theft, we hold ourselves accountable to immediately conduct a thorough examination of what happened and take appropriate action. We use instances like this to strengthen our practices and conduct additional staff training if needed. We have communicated to the customer that her savings, including any accrued dividends or appreciation, will be reinstated. We will work with law enforcement to aid in their investigation.”

Mierzwinski, of the U.S. Public Research Interest Group, said people can’t assume whomever holds their retirement money will reimburse them after a hack, but he said the biggest companies typically do.

Charles Schwab, for example, states online it will “cover 100% of any losses in any of your Schwab accounts due to unauthorized activity.” Fidelity also says it will reimburse customers for any financial losses resulting from unauthorized activity on Fidelity accounts. American Funds states on its website: “We review each report of unauthorized access thoroughly, file appropriate notices with law enforcement agencies, and, in the event of a financial loss, we assess the facts and circumstances for potential reimbursement to your account.”

Companies do need to investigate the hacks for fraud and make sure law enforcement is notified a crime has taken place, experts said.

Cybersecurity experts say if retirement savers have access to their accounts online, one of the best things they can do is make it very hard for hackers to take over their accounts. Here are some tips they recommend:

Make sure any computer or device used to access accounts is protected by a firewall and has current antivirus and antispyware software.

Be wary of responding to, opening attachments in or clicking on links in emails that ask for your financial information.

Open and read any letters or paper statements from your mutual fund or money manager to see if everything looks accurate, and notify them promptly if it appears unauthorized activity has taken place. Investment firms often also will send letters via postal service to let clients know if any changes have been made to details like a home address.

Sikich’s Bong said one important way of increasing security for an account is a strong password that isn’t used for any other types of online accounts. Long passwords with phrases such as “Dogcatfish22” are better and easier to remember than shorter ones, he said.

“It’s a lot longer so people can’t break it as easily,” Bong said.

Mierzwinski said retirement accounts could be particularly vulnerable because account holders might neglect looking at their statements. In some cases, they’ve been told over the years just to let the money grow and not check on it too frequently. That advice isn’t prudent anymore in an age of cybercrime.

“You know it’s just a statement, but open it,” he said.

Bennett said she wants people to know they need to check regularly on their retirement savings.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen with everybody,” she said.

Follow Paul Gores on Twitter @pgores.© Copyright 2020 Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.

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DOJ Files Antitrust Suit Against Google




Google Headquarters with bikes on foreground-Antitrust Suit Against Google-ss-featured

Yesterday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust suit against Google. The Justice Department alleged that Google maintained a monopoly on internet searches. Its dominance allowed it to cut off rivals from critical distribution channels.

RELATED: Legislative Changes on Tech Companies

Eleven Republican state attorneys general joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs. These are Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.

DOJ Cites Sherman Act of 1890

Under the Sherman Act, DOJ lawyers alleged that Google illegally maintained monopolies. This covered markets for “general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising.” US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen led the filing of charges. He said that “Google is the gateway to the internet and a search advertising behemoth. It maintained its monopoly power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

The lawsuit comes after a House Judiciary report that says some tech act as monopolies. Apart from Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook also got mentioned. The report recommended Congress to update antitrust laws. These changes can help with breaking up businesses.

Within a month, the Justice Department issued a lawsuit against Google. It is a result of a 16-month investigation into company business practices. Google got involved in a 2013 antitrust suit but did not get charged.

Monopoly Power In Online Search

Google allegedly tied up distribution channels for online search and related markets. The suit said Google “foreclosed competition for internet search” through exclusionary agreements. This prevented rivals from achieving the scale to fight Google’s dominance. The DOJ said Google holds 88% of the U.S. search market and 94% of mobile searches. Google allegedly harmed consumers by providing lower quality search and reducing choices.

The DOJ also claimed Google owns more than 70% of the search ads market. It said that the company’s monopoly power lets them charge more. While they charged more, Google provided lower-quality services in the absence of competition.

Exclusionary contracts

Google used exclusionary tactics with distributors of its Android mobile OS. As such, Google also suppressed innovation in the search market. Google allegedly requires phone manufacturers who use Android to agree to certain limits. Android-powered devices that aren’t compliant with Google standards face selling restrictions. The company then provides the same manufacturers access to its “vital proprietary apps.” They do so in exchange for agreeing to carry other Google apps. Under the agreement, the devices should prevent users from deleting certain Google apps.

Apart from exclusivity, Google’s revenue-sharing model for distributors helped expand its dominance. A senior executive described the model as bittersweet.  He said it was“a bitter pill for carriers, and a generous revenue share is a sugar that makes it go down smoother.”

Apple’s partnership

Google’s partnership with Apple is the centerpiece of the DOJ’s allegations. Google allegedly misused its power in an anticompetitive manner. At stake is a major revenue stream for both tech giants.

It’s no secret that Google relies on search traffic from Apple’s iPhones. The search engine is the default service on Apple’s Safari phone browser. This means that consumers get Google search results—and related advertising – automatically. The agency claimed Google “locked up” distribution by entering exclusionary agreements with Apple.

Google responds to the suit

Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker responded immediately to the suit via a blog post. He laid out the company’s rebuttal to the DOJ’s claims.

He wrote: “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives. This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. On the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

Walker refuted claims that Google’s arrangement with Apple is exclusive. Rivals also pay to appear in Apple’s Safari. He said Apple chose Google search because they found it as “the best.” He linked a 2018 article where Apple CEO Tim Cook complimented the search engine.

Missed the Main Point

Walker also said that the suit missed the “bigger point.” He argued that consumers choose to use Google’s services because they want to. In case they didn’t, switching default search engines is an easy task to do. Walker pointed to specialized search engines like Expedia, OpenTable, and even Twitter. These companies help people seek specialized information and are available. While Google pays for digital shelf space competitors “are readily available too.” As for agreements, he said that Google’s contracts are industry standard. They offer nothing unusual. 

Watch this as FoxNews reports that the US Department of Justice has filed an antitrust lawsuit against search engine giant Google: 

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The August Stock Market Performance




August Stock Market Performance

The Stock Market August Performance Is Best in 34 Years

The US stock market’s August performance is one for the books. All in all, the major indices posted their best August for some time now. Both the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 closed out the month with gains of more than 7%, their best in 34 years. The DJIA rose 7.6%, while the S&P went up 7.2%. Nasdaq also emerged as a winner, gaining 9.6% during the month.  All three major indices recorded their fifth straight month of gains

The final day of August saw dips from DJIA and S&P 500, but not enough to pull them to the red. The Dow slipped 0.8% or 223.82 points to 28,430.05, while the S&P 500 went down 0.2% to 3,500.31. Nasdaq rose 80 points on August 31, posting a 0.7 % gain. The day’s losses didn’t faze the month’s gains.

RELATED: US Tech Stocks Are Worth More Than Entire Euro Stock Market

August’s last day also debuted stock splits from tech giants Apple and Tesla. Apple split its stock 3 for 1, while Tesla exchanged 5 shares for each stock.  Both hoped the splits would make their stock more affordable to investors. The market welcomed them with a barrage of buying. Apple gained 3.4% on the day, while Tesla hovered in the $500 range before settling to $498, closing with a 12.57% increase.

Tech Stocks Push S&P 500

Nowhere are the gains more dramatic than in the S&P 500. August saw the index posting a record high on seven occasions. It helped that the S&P 5000 held some valuable stocks: Netflix, Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple.  These account for 26% of the S&P’s total value. Removing these five from the index plunges the S&P to a year-long loss.

Dow Jones Reconfigured

The Dow Jones Industrial Index (DJIA), which hosts 30 public stocks, made some changes. This was a reaction to the Apple stock split, which will lessen tech representation in the DJIA. As a result, the Dow added three tech stocks and removed three old-timers. Amgen, salesforce, and Honeywell replaced ExxonMobil, Pfizer, and Raytheon. 

With this new lineup, the Dow is now more accurate in reflecting the influence of the tech sector in the market. During the first day with the newcomers, the Dow inched within a few points to its record high of 29,551.42. The 30,000 mythical ceilings got closer.

Nasdaq hits a 5-month high

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also celebrated a positive August. It closed at 11,695.63, increasing 0.7%, and saw its 40th closing high this year so far. The index was the prime beneficiary of the stock splits from Apple and Tesla. Workday Inc also carried Nasdaq on the last day with a 12.6% gain.

All in all, Nasdaq gained 9.6% in August, posting its best monthly performance in the last 20 years.

Fascinating Run

What’s fascinating is that all these gains are occurring despite the current economy. Coronavirus has kept businesses from operating in full. Unemployment is high for almost half a year, and the economy has contracted. While there are signs of recovery, a full reopening is months away until a vaccine gets approval.

Even with the gloom scenario, the economy started to pick up. Stocks responded to the Fed’s updated fiscal policy and news on an improving job market. By August, the indices have offset all previous losses for the year.

September Incoming

While it was all cheers for the markets last month, this month gets the reputation as a buzzkill. LPL Financials warn that September is “the worst month of the year on average.” According to Chief Marketing Strategist Ryan Detrick, this trend goes back to 1950. What’s more, in the last two years the market rose above 5% in August were in 1986 and 2000. The S&P then proceeded to fall by 8.5% and 5.4% the next month.

Stocks often go down in September, the elections might cause even more fluctuations. While the Republicans seem to gain lost ground the last few weeks, it’s still too early to call. Also poised for a thrilling finish are the Senate and Congressional races.

Add to that awaited developments on the fight against coronavirus, and the stage is set for a wild ride. Strap yourselves in!

Watch this as CNBC Market reports on stocks still head for best August since 1984:

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Jeff Bezos Is Now Worth $200 Billion




Jeff Bezos Worth

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is now worth $200 billion. Bezos first hit $100 billion in 2017, is Forbes’ wealthiest person in the world by 2018. Thanks to the pandemic, the richest man in the world got richer by a couple of billions more. As a result, Bezos became the first person in history to have a net worth of over $200 billion

RELATED: Market Insiders Are Cashing In

Bezos turned his 1993 online bookstore into an e-commerce titan. Little by little, he added more and more inventory to his online warehouse as demand went bigger. Along the way, Amazon swallowed smaller competitors and expanded into other services. By 2015, Amazon had a bigger market capitalization than Walmart.

Pandemic-led Boom

With the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, demand for online purchases shot up. People afraid to get infected stayed home, and most turned to online shopping to buy what they need. As more physical stores closed, more people went online to shop, where Amazon was waiting.  It offered everything from food to supplies to videos and exercise equipment. In addition, pandemic staples like sanitizers, toilet paper, and face masks are available.

As a result of all this demand, stock prices (AMZN $3,420.20) have gone up 80% since January. Along with it is Bezos’ net worth, which depends a lot on his 11% stake in Amazon. In January, that stake was worth around $115 billion, and now its nearing double. Amazon itself is worth $1.7 trillion, making it the second-most valuable company in the U.S after Apple. Despite its considerable spending due to the pandemic, revenue reached almost $90 billion. And investors can’t get enough, pushing the stock price to almost double its January rate of $1,898.01.

Bezos’ shares in Amazon represent 90% of his personal wealth. In addition, he also owns a media company, the Washington Post, and aerospace firm Blue Origin.

The Centi-Billionaires

Jeff Bezos is by no means the only centi-billionaire among his peers in the tech community. The second richest person in the world, Bill Gates, is worth $116 billion and made most of his money in Microsoft. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently became joined this exclusive club. With Facebook hovering at $300 per share, his net worth reached $100 billion this month.

Close to joining is Elon Musk, whose EV company, Tesla, is the world’s most valuable automaker by market cap. Right now, Musk is a few billion short, with his net worth at $96 billion this year. But if Tesla continues its streak, give him a few more months.

The remaining centi-billionaire is the only one outside tech, Bernard Mark Arnault. While the chairman of LVMH lost his spot earlier this year, he reclaimed it in a few months. Arnault is now worth $115 billion and is the 3rd richest person on earth.

How much is $200 billion?

Jeff Bezos would’ve been richer if he hadn’t divorced his wife, MacKenzie Scott in 2019. During the divorce proceedings, he agreed to give 25% of his Amazon stake to her as part of the settlement. At present, that stake is worth $63 billion. Due to this windfall, Scott became the second richest woman and 14th richest total.

In pure compensation, Bezos receives around $1.7 million a year. This includes a base salary of $81,840, plus $1.6 million in other compensation. Amazon shoulders his security and travel expenses. Using this number, he makes around $5,005 a day, including weekends and holidays. For a CEO, these numbers are at the lower end of the spectrum. In contrast, Elon Musk received $595.3 million in compensation from Tesla last year.

If you use Bezos’ net worth ($205 billion as of August 26) instead, the figures become eye-popping. For this year, he will have earned $6,500 a second. This is $1,495 higher than his daily take based on salary.

The numbers don’t end there. Amazon, like most other tech stocks in the market today, is in the middle of an extraordinary bull run. Despite the current pandemic gloom and doom scenario, share prices keep going up. This means the net worth of Bezos and company are still about to rise. So, who wants to be a centi-billionaire?

Watch this as the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos becomes the first person ever worth $200 billion:

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