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Houston’s Cyber Threats: How to stop hackers from stealing your money

HOUSTON – Hackers are always looking for ways to rip you off.

KPRC 2 Investigates looked into cyber threats against the oil and gas industry and our power and transportation grids, and now we're focusing on the banking and finance industry.

What is being done to protect your money?

Timothy Fleming is passionate about helping people plan their financial futures.

"We've got the income there that we would keep track of," said Fleming, a Financial Advisor with Endurance Financial Planning LLC.

It is a family affair for Fleming and his wife Leah as they're purposeful about the way they teach their two small boys about money.

"We'll have monthly or bi-monthly sit-downs, we review the budget, and we look at expenses," said Fleming. "It's an ongoing process."

Banks and other financial institutions are top targets for cyber attackers. Whether it's cash, bank accounts or credit cards, hackers want your money.

It's a threat that's near the top of the FBI's priority list.

"A cyber intrusion onto a financial institution can cause a world of hurt," said Mark Webster, an FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge. "We look at vulnerabilities, we look at the malware that's out there, we look at emerging threats that may be impacting that particular sector, and we provide that information in a timely manner to ensure the banking industry or any other sector has the information we have to better protect themselves."

Threats Against Banks

In 2018, cyberattacks cost the U.S. economy a staggering $654 billion.

In two recent, high-profile attacks against Equifax and Capital One, the personal information of nearly a quarter of a billion people were exposed, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, and account numbers.

"It happens every day, it's not just Amegy, it's every bank," said Amegy Bank Executive Vice President Ken Smiley. "We've been able to stave off an attack on the bank itself."

Smiley said he sees a lot of businesses' emails compromised.

"Every day we get emails that one of our clients has either received a fraudulent email - we call it business email compromise - or has had some sort of check fraud," he said. "You'll receive an email from the executive saying something like 'Hey, I've got this deal - I'm hopping on a plane and I need you to send funds to this account, this routing number immediately. when I get on the ground, I'll call you and talk about this particular deal.'"

Protecting Your Money

But it's not just the banks that are most vulnerable.

"Of all industries, I'd say banking industry is on the leading edge of cybersecurity," said Tom Gorup, Vice President of Security and Support Operations at Houston firm Alert Logic.

Gorup said a hacker's most prominent target is your credit card because it can be used over and over again. The best way to protect yourself is to use mobile payment services, he said.

"So when you tap to pay through Apple Pay through Google Pay or whatever mobile payment system that is a one time use," explains Gorup. "So if an attacker steals that they can only use that one time."

Gorup also suggests not using debit cards because a cyberattack could leave you in a worse position than a compromised credit card.

"If you use your debit card, that's attached to real money, you may have to pay rent with that money," explains Gorup. "Instead use a credit card, that's insured money. If you lose that or that gets stolen, you can still pay your bills, keep the lights on so to speak."

For Timothy Fleming and his family, it's simple: the only thing you can control is what you do and your actions.

"The most secure and the safest you are going to feel about your money is going to be how prepared you are," Fleming said.

Preparing for a Possible Cyber Attack

Fleming has three recommendations to prepare your family just in case the banking industry is targeted.

1. Don’t keep all of your money in the same place

Fleming said: "Whoever your primary bank is that you have your primary checking account in, go to a different bank, a different institution and open up a savings account. Put an amount of money, whatever you think is appropriate, put something in there. If there's any reason [you can't] access your bank at that time, you've got another account that maybe you can access."

2. Buy a prepaid card

Fleming said: "Go ahead and put some money on a card - you can keep that card with you. Then the banks, even if you can't get into any of the banks for whatever reason, you've got a card you can use that has prepaid money that you put on it, on there."

3. Keep some cash at your house

Fleming said: “You don’t want to keep a ton of cash, then it’s just sitting there not growing, not helping you. But have a little there in a safe, in a sock drawer, whatever you are most comfortable with. Have a little cash on hand, so if for any reason you can’t access your funds cause they are tied up, you’ve got some cash, and you can go buy groceries and things that you need.”