There are many stories recently about hackers gaining access to personal information on the Internet. That plus the use of personal information by certain companies who prey on unsuspecting users who are on Facebook or other social media, is taking center stage of late.   All of these situations point to one specific fact, our online security is not nearly as advanced as it should or could be.

Did you know that over fifteen million (15,000,000) consumers in the United States are victims of identity theft that they know about?  There are almost as many that are victims of the crime annually who are not even aware of it until its too late.    Over twenty-five (25%) of all US consumers were notified of one data breach or the other by a bank, credit card company or social media company just this past year.  Cybercriminals have stolen approximately Fifteen Billion ($15,000,000,000.00) or more from unsuspecting individuals like you and I annually.  Since the introduction of EMV or Chip imbedded credit cards, actual card cloning is down slightly.   Debit card theft is up across the nation with most card cloning being done at gas stations, convenience stores and/or fast food locations.

Another offshoot of credit card fraud is to now steal your information and sell it on the “Dark Web”.  Over Five Billion dollars ($5,000,000,000.00) annually is stolen by account “takeovers”.   This is when cyber or identity thieves steal your identity using your debit card and some other pertinent information.  They take control of your debit card, use the account it is linked to and/or open new accounts in your name.  Mostly credit card accounts and other charge cards or credit products as well as bank accounts.   Utilizing the personal information they are able to have multiple accounts in a subjects name for a decent enough period of time in order to get the max out of the theft.

Information is also used for employment or tax related fraud.   Over thirty percent (30%) of all financial fraud is employment or tax fraud.  How so you may ask?  Well with your personal information, say your name, address, social security number and some passwords you use, a cyber criminal has access to any information they really want.   Is it that easy you also ask?  Yeah well unfortunately it is extremely easy.

As part of our ongoing series on these issues and with our extensive relationships with law enforcement, we were able to speak with a former cyber thief who is now on probation following several convictions for identity theft and cyber crime.   Tom as he refers to himself, spoke to us on condition of autonomy about how he is now assisting law enforcement with focusing their efforts on trying to stop as much of these thefts as they can.   Please see our conversation below-

 

RI:   Tom, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today.

Tom:  No problem. 

RI:   Tom, can you tell us how easy it is to get someone’s personal information on the Internet?

Tom:  All the information everyone uses is out there.  People like me mine the Internet for it and then it is sold on the Dark Web.

RI:  Sold?  For how much?

Tom:  Usually someone’s whole file is worth say a bit over a thousand or so.

RI:  So, for $5,500 I could buy information on five people at least?

Tom:  Yes. 

RI:  What would someone like you make off of the five people we are hypothetically discussing?

Tom:  Well, depends on the people.  But lets say we can normally make $5,000 to $10,000 a person. 

RI:  So, a file that costs you a bit over a $1,000 per person can make you five to ten times your money.

Tom:  Yes.  

RI:  With returns like that it’s no wonder cyber criminals and hackers are continuing to try to puncture any security there is.

Tom:  (laughs)  People make billions of dollars doing this.   Whole cartels are on the Dark Web trafficking in stolen information.

RI:  How is all this information stolen?

Tom:  Most of are known as Phishing Scams.   Emails or texts sent to you that look real enough but aren’t real at all.   You think you’re putting in information for your bank or leasing company but you are really giving it someone like me. 

RI:  Once you get it do you use it immediately?

Tom:  Depending on how strong your credit and income are, depends on whom gets to use your information and when.  A lot of this stuff is packaged and sold to the highest bidder.   

RI:  So for arguments sake twenty or so people with the same high credit and income level are worth more than younger people with lower scores or people new into the credit market?

Tom:  Yes the more you can get out of someone’s file the more it is worth.

RI:  Tom, why is this form of crime growing exponentially on an annual basis?

Tom:  It’s simple.   We do everything online now.   Everything. Our society has pushed us to live our entire lives wirelessly.   So it is amazingly easy to steal your information and use it.   The more shopping we all do online the easier we are making it for people like me.

RI:   So you are really saying that in a way, we are responsible for our own demise. The information age has given way to the new criminal age?

Tom:  Pretty much.  The same technological advancements that assist people with selling goods and services online have led to the information being readily available. Anytime such information is easy to get, it is almost impossible to protect from it getting out there.

RI:   From your perspective, now that you are on the other side of the equation, what can be done to stop people like you?

Tom:  Not much.   Law enforcement is too overwhelmed to find it all.  They aren’t as trained or talented.  And quite frankly they aren’t paying attention unless it’s a lot of money.  This is done by stealing a little from a lot of people. Also, think about the profit potential from all of this theft, the more that something is worth profit wise, it makes it harder to protect against.  

RI:  What can be done to stop it Tom?

Tom:  Probably not a lot until we advance technology forward for security and give law enforcement larger budgets.  We also need to focus the hiring of actual hackers for the government. This is a kind of warfare, so we need our weapons to protect and defend against theirs .  But there are certain things you can do as indiviudals . First, do not trust any emails you receive from your bank unless you were expecting it.  Second, verify anyone you give your information to.  Third, limit the amount f credit or debit cards you have online.  Try to segregate one card or two just for shopping on line.  Having too many cards online is not good.  It allows for the information to be stolen and there is that much more information out there that is yours.  As well be careful about paying bills online or paying for things online from multiple accounts.    Fourth, at gas stations and convenience stores use pay apps where there is major encryption and/or prepaid cards where there aren’t large credit lines that can be hacked or stolen.

Well there you have it everyone, our increase in online shopping and living has credited a whole new cottage industry of illegality and bad intentions.   Our information is sold on the Dark Web and used against us on a daily basis.  Not only do banks now have to worry about credit card fraud, which has been going on since credit cards were introduced, but now it is complete financial identity fraud.

One thing is for certain; we need to be more vigilant if we are to stop the criminals at their own game.

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The market is certainly taking the road less traveled these days. Down 500 points one moment, up 300 the next. Market pundits are dumbfounded and quite confused to say the least. What is going to happen next? Some say an upward trending market and then there are those that are sounding the alarm.   Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…..some market analysts are breaking the glass.

For the few who are in the know, the tealeaves spell impending turbulent times ahead.   If the recent past market moves are any indication of the choppy waters coming our way, then we should brace for one hell of a roller coaster ride.   Even active managers who have managed hedge funds for years, such as Bill Ackman are having such a hard time their redemptions are piling up.

While retail investors were first piling into the market already flush with returns from 2017, professional money managers have been navigating the waters by taking shorter-term positions.   Those hurt the most in the investment community have been those taking directional risk or large position risk. To the rest of us this means that the market as we have stated in prior articles was headed for a correction, which it has already started.

What will likely continue to be a volatile year may actually end with markets up.   But what comes next is scaring many market experts.   The markets in 2019 will most likely become bearish in nature and then what a lot of pundits are calling the “long slide” will happen for the next five to ten years.

You see we are victims of our own policies.   Back towards the revamping of monetary policy after 2008, the Fed put us on a course of market revitalization.   That policy of course helped fuel the bull market that has most likely just ended.   Stocks have become over valued due to the free flow of money and the constant continued growth that everyone was so focused on.   Growth that cannot continually be sustained for successive periods according to market experts. The liquidity created by the Fed producing more money in circulation has led to the over value of many issues.  Add to that the economic plans of the new administration have added to the growth and increased valuation.

What happens is almost like borrowing against your future earnings.   So, since the Fed increased liquidity to assist in the jump starting of markets after the Great Recession, the elongated future of stock prices has been borrowed against already.   Add to that the fact that there are fewer public companies today because of lots of years of regulation and buyout transactions, and there are not enough names to go around for investors to purchase. That is why you see such volatile swings in the market intraday.

All in all, many market pundits are calling for a five to ten year sliding market where the market trades sideways and basically goes no where. Due to where we are economically it is the ultimate in stasis market theory.   Picture it as a basic market tug of war.   There is enough good news and enough bad news to keep the market within a trading range that goes absolutely nowhere for an elongated period of time.

Buckle up everyone as this is going to be an interesting ride….

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The Hypocrisy of the Digital Age…

March 23, 2018

One will never forget the invention of the compact disc, which was a digital solution to an analog world.   Music went from being stamped or etched into a record, to being magnetically recorded on cassette tapes and then digitally encoded to a compact disc. Tapes led to the introduction of the first “Walkman”.   The portable […]

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The Bubble Explodes Again….

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Several market pundits have recently reported on a topic that is not something everyone wants to openly discuss. That is the ballooning amount of debt in the world has reached monumental proportions.   According to one study the overall amount of debt outstanding is over $200 Trillion.   (Yes you read that right) That number is so […]

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#Neveragain

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Approximately ten days ago Nikolas Cruz opened fire on children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen children were killed because of this tragic event and others wounded.   Since the incident, many groups have pushed to have our country focus on the laws that govern gun purchasing. The types of guns one can buy or […]

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Don’t Let it Happen Again

February 15, 2018

Dear America, Yes today is sad day.   Sad indeed.   Yesterday once again a disturbed young American opened fire on innocent children and staff in a school killing seventeen people and wounding others. What started out as a normal school day at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida turned into every parent’s worst nightmare.   Senseless […]

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ETFs, ETNs and what it all means…

February 11, 2018

When we were growing up market volatility could be easily witnessed at trading desks and on the floors of the various exchanges, as well the trading floors of large trading firms.   People were responsible for the buying and selling that took the markets to new heights and also dropped the market to new lows. In […]

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Too Good to Be True….

February 2, 2018

The day of reckoning for the continued run up of the market has finally reared its head.

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It’s Time to Act like Americans…

January 29, 2018

What is wrong here? This is the United States is it not? Last time we looked it is America correct? So why are we continually allowing the constant berating of our current elected President? Why is it that we continue to hear self absorbed stars babble about the current administration? Can’t we realize that Donald […]

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The Runaway Train — The Dow’s Rise to 26,000

January 17, 2018

It took approximately seven days for the Dow to rise from 25,000 to 26,000. Certainly one move for the history books, as this was the fastest rise in one thousand point numbers in history.  

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