Articles: Don't take the phishing bait
Are you getting pop-up messages on your computer or mysterious e-mails asking you to provide your Social Security number or other personal data? What about mysterious text messages on your cell phone? Do not be surprised if you have been targeted by a "phishing" scam intended to steal information from unsuspecting victims. In particular, these criminals have been known to prey on the elderly.
The financial consequences can be devastating. What's more, you may have to spend months or even years trying to straighten out the mess.
Common theme: The pop-up message or email appears to be posted by an organization or individual you are familiar with, such as 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 emails 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. And now the FBI is warning consumers about even more sophisticated attacks.
A little common sense can go a long way, but it is easy to be caught off-guard by a phishing scam. Although there are no absolute guarantees, consider these seven precautions:
- Do not reply to messages requesting personal or financial information. Similarly, do not click on the message. A bona fide company would not ask for this type of information via e-mail. If you have concerns, contact the organization using a telephone number you know to be genuine or initiate a new Web browser session at the company's actual Web site.
- Use antivirus and antispyware software. Don't forget to have these updated periodically. Some phishing e- mails contain software than can harm your computer or track online activity without your knowledge. Antivirus software may protect you from inadvertently 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 connection. Operating systems and browsers may also offer free software patches to close the "holes" in the system.
- Do not email personal or financial information. It does not matter who is asking for it, even if it is supposedly a friend or family member. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide information to the organization, look for indicators that the site is secure. Caveat: Such indicators 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.
- Forward phishing spam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to firstname.lastname@example.org as well as 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 any identity theft scam, report it immediately to the FTC at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Do not delay.
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