Phishing – pronounced “fishing” – is the latest form of identity theft. It’s when thieves act as if they are representing an organization and try to “hook” the consumer into providing personal information. Once the consumer is “hooked”, the thieves can do lasting damage to a consumer’s financial accounts. They can dupe consumers into providing their Social Security Numbers, financial account numbers, PINs, mothers’ maiden names and other personal information.
The thieves often pose as a:
Estimated to cost consumers $1.2 billion last year, according to research firm Gartner, Inc., phishing is perpetrated by both phone and e-mail, although e-mail is more prevalent.
Here’s how it works: Consumers receive an e-mail from an organization with which they do business. The e-mail typically includes bogus appeals such as problems with an account or billing errors, and asks the consumer to confirm his/her personal information. Different approaches include things such as “We’re updating our records”, “We’ve identified fraudulent activity on your account”, or “Valuable account and personal information was lost due to a computer glitch.” To encourage people to act immediately, the e-mail usually threatens that the account could be closed or canceled.
Most e-mails ask recipients to follow an embedded link that takes them to an exact replica of the victim company’s Web site. Graphics on the counterfeit site are so convincing that even experts often have a hard time distinguishing the fake site from the real one.
Despite the convincing appeals, consumers should not respond to unsolicited e-mails that direct them to divulge personal identifying information. Reputable organizations that consumers legitimately do business with generally do not request account numbers or passwords unless the consumer initiated the transaction.
Unfortunately, by hijacking the trusted brands of well-known and reputable organizations nationwide, phishers are able to convince up to 5% of recipients to respond to them, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group. Gartner, Inc. recently reported that more than 57 million Americans think they have received a phishing e-mail, and the FBI has called phishing the “hottest, most troubling new scam on the Internet.”
Use these common sense tips to help protect yourself against phishing and other forms of identity theft.
If you suspect that you’ve given information to a phisher, it’s important to act immediately.
If you inadvertently provided account numbers, passwords or PINs to a phisher, there are things you can do to protect your financial accounts. For information on how you can put a “fraud alert” on your files at the credit reporting bureaus, and for other advice for ID theft victims, contact the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Clearinghouse by visiting www.ftc.gov, or call 877-438-4338.
Even if you didn’t get hooked, you should report any phishing attempts by contacting the National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch. Visit www.fraud.org or call 800-876-7060. You should also alert the company the phisher was impersonating, and their local law enforcement agency.
Use these resources to learn more about phishing and identity theft:
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