Articles: Don’t take the “phishing” bait
Have you received e-mails or seen pop-up messages asking you to provide your Social Security number or other personal data? There’s a good chance you are the target of a “phishing” scam intended to steal information from unsuspecting victims.
The financial consequences of phishing can be severe. Don’t fall prey to one of these scams.
How it usually works: The e-mail or pop-up appears to be posted by an organiza- tion or individual you are familiar with—perhaps your bank, someone in your e-mail address book or even the government. It requests that you update, validate or confirm certain information. Some phishing e-mails threaten penalties or cancellations if you don’t respond.
The message then directs you to a Web site that looks legitimate. This “fake” site is designed to trick you into revealing personal information that con artists can use for their own gains or to commit crimes in your name.
How can you avoid phishing scams? Here are a few precautions that should help.
➡ Do not reply to messages requesting personal or financial information. Similarly, do not click on any links in the mes- sage. A bona fide company would not ask for this type of information via e-mail. If you have concerns, contact the organ- ization using a telephone number you know to be genuine or initiate a new Web browser session at the company’s actual
➡ Use antivirus and antispyware software. Have these updated periodically. Some phishing e-mails contain software that can harm your computer or track online activity without your knowledge. Antivirus software may protect you from inadver- tently accepting unwanted files.
➡ Set up a computer “firewall.” The firewall blocks outside
communications from unauthorized sources. It is especially
important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connec- tion. Operating systems and browsers may also offer free software patches to close the “holes” in the system.
➡ Do not e-mail personal or financial information. If you ini- tiate a transaction and want to provide information to the organization, look for indicators that the site is secure (e.g.,
a lock icon on the browser’s status bar). Caveat: Such indi- cators are not 100% foolproof.
➡ Review credit card and bank account statements to check for unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company
or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
➡ Be cautious about opening attachments or downloading
files. These files may contain viruses or other software that
can be harmful. If you are unsure, obtain independent verification from the “sender” of the file.
➡ Forward phishing spam to firstname.lastname@example.org and to the company, bank or organization impersonated in the e-mail. Most organizations provide details about reporting problems. Again, visit the legitimate Web site.
Finally, if you believe you are the victim of a scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov. You might also access the FTC Identity Theft Web site at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft. Rely on your professional advisers for additional assistance.
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