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Retirement Hacks: A retired nurse lost $43,000 to bitcoin — watch out for red flags online

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A New York retired nurse lost $43,000 of her life savings to bitcoin scammers, after transferring the money to them through a malicious computer pop-up – an unfortunate reminder to be vigilant when it comes to your money. 

Retirement Tip of the Week: Be careful of what sites you trust, and if a pop-up or email looks fraudulent or concerning, have it checked – don’t immediately hand over your savings. 

The woman, who was using her work computer, said she was told to send the money through wire transfer and “bitcoin ATM,” which converts dollars to cryptocurrency, The New York Post reported. The ad pop-up stated she had to move her money to a new location so that her computer would not be locked and her money stolen. Bitcoin ATM transactions can’t be reversed, Todd Maher, president of the financial crimes consulting firm BitSource AML Solutions, told ABC affiliate WKBW

It is always important to vet your investment decisions in all accounts, but especially retirement savings. Cryptocurrencies need not be entirely avoided, but they should be treated as the risky assets that they are. Many advisers suggest keeping these investments to a minimum in retirement accounts and investing in them in a separate account. Investors should also be comfortable losing whatever amount of money they put into these alternatives, just as they would if they were gambling it at the casino. 

In this case, however, savers need to be watchful of others trying to siphon their hard-earned dollars. Financial scams are common, and can affect retirement accounts, savings accounts and Social Security benefits, to name a few. 

Want more actionable tips for your retirement savings journey? Read MarketWatch’s “Retirement Hacks” column 

Pop-ups are a common fraud tactic — in some instances, they show up as a warning, as they did with this retired nurse, while in others, they might look like a virus or a text message notification. 

If you receive links via email, direct message on social media platforms or text messages, confirm with the sender (if you know them) that the link is legitimate and was meant to be shared — and when they come from financial institutions, confirm the spelling and legitimacy of email addresses, URLs and signatures. You can go a step farther and call the customer service line from the institution’s website or business cards — not the email or message you received — to check that this was a message truly meant for you.  

Scammers may also call individuals with similar story lines, according to Charles Schwab. The financial firm also suggested individuals never allow remote access to a computer unless it’s from someone they trust, to have antivirus software regularly check a computer (but not rely on the programs alone to thwart scams) and to avoid relying on caller ID to tell if a phone call is legitimate. 

Along with demanding money immediately, there are a few other red flags to watch out for — such as those where individuals are told their family members are in financial trouble, or where people online get to know each other romantically and then ask for money.

There are other ways to protect against potential scammers. Update your passwords and make them difficult to decode (so avoid words like “password”). Keep your personal information private, and avoid oversharing on public social media platforms. Scams continuously evolve — during the height of the pandemic, many were offering cures for COVID.

And never feel too embarrassed to reach out for help, be it from a family member, a friend or authorities — depending on the circumstance, individuals can reach out to their financial firms, or agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Labor and the Federal Trade Commission.

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