Don’t Be Lured in by Phishing

Internet scam artists trolling for people's financial information have a new way to lure unsuspecting victims: They go “phishing.” Even if you aren't familiar with the term, you're probably aware of the horror stories.

Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to trick you into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information.

The scam works like this: You receive an e-mail or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you deal with. The message usually says that you need to “update” or “validate” your account information, and might threaten some dire consequence if you don't respond. The message directs you to a Web site that looks just like a legitimate organization's site, but isn't.

The real purpose of getting you to this site is to trap you into divulging your personal information so that the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, suggests these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:
  • If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via e-mail.
  • Never e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not secure. If you must initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a Web site that begins “https:” because the “s” stands for “secure.”
  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any 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.
  • Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Some phishing e-mails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting unwanted files.
  • A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection.
  • If you use wireless Internet connections at coffee houses or airports, be sure your “data encryption” icon is tagged in your computer's network properties software.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any file from e-mails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
If you suspect any suspicious activity, you can report it directly to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to spam@uce.gov.