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Our Town with William Kelly: Experts offer tips to guard against scams and cybercrime

A Palm Beach Civic Association audience learned from two experts on Monday how to better protect themselves from scammers and cyber criminals.

More than 100 people turned out for the Civic Association’s Signature Series luncheon at The Beach Club. Michael Reiter and Ryan Paradis were the featured speakers.

Reiter is founder of Michael Reiter and Associates, a private security firm specializing in the protection of local families and organizations. He is also a former Palm Beach police chief with more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, and a director with the Civic Association.

Paradis is a client cybersecurity specialist based in Los Angeles with First Republic Bank. He has experience in the banking and utility sectors, where he has assisted thousands of people and organizations with strengthening their cybersecurity posture.

Reiter said the rapid population growth has transformed this area. Violent crime statistics show that Palm Beach continues to be a far safer place to live than its surrounding communities, but it is still vulnerable.

Palm Beach’s census count of 8,000 residents doesn’t reflect the wave of visitors who travel onto the island to visit its beaches or patronize its restaurants and other businesses, he said.

“We have 75,000 incoming vehicle trips a day during the peak [travel] period,” Reiter said.

Because of the heavy traffic on the island, travel times are much slower. Your favorite restaurant may require a reservation a month in advance. When you get there, you’re likely to notice fewer familiar faces than you would have five years ago, Reiter said.

“We are really just learning what we have become as a community,” Reiter said. “It does affect crime in a pretty significant way … There is a lot more going on. People know about us, and they know there is a concentration of wealth here.”

Reiter outlined steps the “standard” steps town residents should take to protect themselves and their properties.

First, the obvious: Lock the doors and windows to your home and be sure to keep your vehicles locked, he said. Landscape lighting should be left on around the clock.

Video surveillance systems, which allow the homeowners to remotely log in and monitor the property while they are away, are also standard in Palm Beach, he said.

Reiter said the best tool available to town residents is the Direct Connect alarm system that directly notifies the Palm Beach Police Department of a possible home intrusion. There is no verification process; police officers are immediately dispatched, and the response time is about eight minutes quicker than that of a private alarm system, Reiter said.

“Eight minutes is a long time if someone has broken into your home,” he said.

The Police Department has said for years that vehicle thefts are a problem in Palm Beach because of the abundance of luxury cars and the tendency of many owners to leave them unlocked. “We have become very well known to everybody who wants to steal a luxury car that they can probably find it here,” Reiter said.

Car thief rings survey the town during the day to select their targets, then return to steal the vehicles overnight. The thieves can easily spot an unlocked car from a distance because, on most luxury models, the sideview mirrors turn inward when the vehicle is locked, he said.

Reiter also touched on security while traveling and the importance of shielding your phone, passport and credit cards in a Faraday Bag to prevent your data from being stolen. Made of a flexible metallic fabric, the bags are used to block remote wiping or alteration of wireless devices.

They can prevent thieves from using a device, which can be bought on eBay, to steal the data about you on your credit card, Reiter said. “It’s a growing theft problem because people don’t realize that it’s happening very much.”

Paradis focused his remarks on cybercrime and security.

He said the banking industry is experiencing a large upswing in scams. But there is much we can do to protect ourselves.

Fraudsters will always bait you to take some sort of action, often by clicking on an electronic link in a text or an email, he said. Often, they will say you need to “update” your account. But they are typically directing you to a fraudulent website where they hope to collect your payment information.

Paradis said there are “red flag” indicators: a strange set of letters at the end of a text message, or poor grammar in the message itself.

“Think before you click,” he said.

Be sure your passwords are long, unique, and complex, he said. They should be at least 12 characters long. You should never use the same password for more than one account.

Usernames should never be your email address or anything that ties back to you personally, he said.

If you receive correspondence that says there is a problem with your bank account, log on to your bank account and take a look. “If everything appears okay, then just go ahead and block the sender” of the suspicious message, Paradis said.

If someone calls you and claims to represent your bank, you can always hang up and call the bank directly to make sure the call was legitimate, he said.

First Republic Bank customers can schedule appointments with the bank, which will go through their mobile phones with them to make sure they are secure, Paradis said. The process takes about 90 minutes. Customers can schedule follow up appointments with the bank on a quarterly basis to make sure they remain protected.

First Republic Bank sponsored Monday’s luncheon.

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