Bad news. The email says your bank account will be suspended unless you visit the bank's Web site and immediately re-enter your Social Security number, phone number, several credit card numbers, library card number and maybe even the name of the presidential candidate you voted for in the 2004 election.
Hey, wait a minute. Do you think that message could be part of a scam to steal your cash and identity? Quite probably, yes. The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an association of retailers and financial institutions focused on eliminating Web-based fraud, reports that it finds about 20,000 to 30,000 unique "phishing" Web sites each month.
Each day, most Internet users are assaulted by "important" emails that require "immediate attention" about some type of banking or e-commerce matter. The email urges you to click a link to go to the company's site to straighten out the problem. The catch is that the link takes you to a site that has been designed to look exactly like the real company's site, but is instead just a front for gathering personal information.
Most financial or commercial crisis messages are bogus, but a few might not be. So how do you sort out the real email from the garbage? These tips from the Anti-Phishing Working Group can keep you from getting hooked as another phishing victim:
- Unless the email is digitally signed , you can't be sure it wasn't forged or "spoofed."
- Phishers typically include upsetting or exciting (but false) statements in their emails to get people to react immediately.
- Once you get to the phisher's site, it will typically ask for information such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, date of birth and so on. This should be a red flag — a real site would never ask for more than a log in before addressing the problem.
- Phisher emails usually aren't personalized, but they can be. Valid messages from your bank or e-commerce company generally are personalized, but always call to check if you are unsure.
- Call the company on the telephone or log onto the Web site directly by typing the Web address in your browser.
- You should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure Web site (one that begins in "https") or the telephone.
- Phishers are now able to "spoof," or forge the "https://" that you normally see when you're on a secure Web server and a legitimate-looking address. You may even see both in the link of a scam email. Make it a habit to enter the address of any banking, shopping, auction or financial transaction Web site yourself and not depend on displayed links.
- Phishers may also forge the yellow lock you would normally see near the bottom of your screen on a secure site. The lock has usually been considered as another indicator that you are visiting a "safe" site. The lock, when double-clicked, displays the security certificate for the site. If you get any warnings displayed that the address of the site you have displayed does not match the certificate, do not continue.
- The newest release of Internet Explorer version 7 includes this toolbar, as does Firefox version 2 .
- EarthLink ScamBlocker is part of a browser toolbar that is free to all Internet users. You can download it here .
- If anything is suspicious or you don't recognize the transaction, contact your bank and all card issuers to follow up.
- email@example.com, the Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org and to the company that's being spoofed (for instance, "email@example.com").
- When forwarding spoofed messages, always include the entire original email with its original header information intact.
- Notify The Internet Crime Complaint Center of the FBI by filing a complaint on its Web site.
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