The most common form of phishing is by email. Pretending to be from your financial institution, or a legitimate retailer or government agency, the sender asks you to “confirm” your personal information for some made-up reason. Typically, the email contains a link to a phony Web site that looks just like the real thing – with sophisticated graphics and images. In fact, the fake Web sites are near-replicas of the real one, making it hard even for experts to distinguish between the real and fake Web sites. You enter your personal information onto the Web site – and into the hands of identity thieves.
Phishers also use the phone to hunt for personal information. Some, posing as employers, call or send emails to people who have listed themselves on job search Web sites.
Something’s Phishy If…
While phishing scams can be sophisticated, the following features are often indicators that something is “phishy.” Be aware of a potential scam if:
… someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information such as your financial institution account number, an account password or PIN, credit card number or Social Security number. Legitimate companies and agencies don’t operate that way.
… the sender, who is a supposed representative of a company you do business with, asks you to confirm that you have a relationship with the company. This information is on record with the real company.
… you are warned that your account will be shut down unless you “reconfirm” your financial information.
… links in an email you receive ask you to provide personal information. To check whether an email or call is really from the company or agency, call it directly or go to the company’s Web site (use a search engine to find it).
… you’re a job seeker who is contacted by someone claiming to be a prospective employer who wants your personal information.
Sample Phone Calls
Is this Mr. Smith? Im calling from XYC Bank. Do you have a Visa® card? I need to verify your account number because it appears that someone may be fraudulently charging purchases to your account. Can you read me the account number and expiration date on the front? OK, now the last four digits on the back
Hello, Mildred Brown? I represent the ABC Company and our records show that you have an overdue bill of $500 plus interest and penalties. You dont know anything about this bill? Well, there could be a mix-up. Is your address 123 Main Street ? What is your Social Security number?
This is Detective Thompson calling from the Federal Consumer Agency. Are you Mr. White? We have received several reports of telemarketing fraud involving attempted withdrawals from bank accounts in your area. In order to safeguard your account, we need to confirm your account number
How To Protect Yourself From Phishers
Watch out for “phishy” emails. The most common form of phishing is emails pretending to be from a legitimate retailer, bank, organization, or government agency. The sender asks to “confirm” your personal information for some made-up reason: your account is about to be closed, an order for something has been placed in your name, or your information has been lost because of a computer problem. Another tactic phishers use is to say they’re from the fraud departments of well-known companies and ask to verify your information because they suspect you may be a victim of identity theft! In one case, a phisher claimed to be from a state lottery commission and requested people’s banking information to deposit their “winnings” in their accounts.
Don’t click on links within emails that ask for your personal information. Fraudsters use these links to lure people to phony Web sites that looks just like the real sites of the company, organization, or agency they’re impersonating. If you follow the instructions and enter your personal information on the Web site, you’ll deliver it directly into the hands of identity thieves. To check whether the message is really from the company or agency, call it directly or go to its Web site (use a search engine to find it).
Beware of “pharming.” In this latest version of online ID theft, a virus or malicious program is secretly planted in your computer and hijacks your Web browser. When you type in the address of a legitimate Web site, you’re taken to a fake copy of the site without realizing it. Any personal information you provide at the phony site, such as your password or account number, can be stolen and fraudulently used.
Never enter your personal information in a pop-up screen. Sometimes a phisher will direct you to a real company’s, organization’s, or agency’s Web site, but then an unauthorized pop-up screen created by the scammer will appear, with blanks in which to provide your personal information. If you fill it in, your information will go to the phisher. Legitimate companies, agencies and organizations don’t ask for personal information via pop-up screens. Install pop-up blocking software to help prevent this type of phishing attack.
Protect your computer with spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spy ware software, and a firewall, and keep them up to date. A spam filter can help reduce the number of phishing emails you get. Anti-virus software, which scans incoming messages for troublesome files, and anti-spy ware software, which looks for programs that have been installed on your computer and track your online activities without your knowledge, can protect you against pharming and other techniques that phishers use. Firewalls prevent hackers and unauthorized communications from entering your computer – which is especially important if you have a broadband connection because your computer is open to the Internet whenever it’s turned on. Look for programs that offer automatic updates and take advantage of free patches that manufacturers offer to fix newly discovered problems. Go to www.onguardonline.gov and www.staysafeonline.org to learn more about how to keep your computer secure.
Only open email attachments if you’re expecting them and know what they contain. Even if the messages look like they came from people you know, they could be from scammers and contain programs that will steal your personal information.
Know that phishing can also happen by phone. You may get a call from someone pretending to be from a company or government agency, making the same kinds of false claims and asking for your personal information.
If someone contacts you and says you’ve been a victim of fraud, verify the person’s identity before you provide any personal information. Legitimate credit card issuers and other companies may contact you if there is an unusual pattern indicating that someone else might be using one of your accounts. But usually they only ask if you made particular transactions; they don’t request your account number or other personal information. Law enforcement agencies might also contact you if you’ve been the victim of fraud. To be on the safe side, ask for the person’s name, the name of the agency or company, the telephone number, and the address. Get the main number from the phone book, the Internet, or directory assistance, then call to find out if the person is legitimate.
Job seekers should also be careful. Some phishers target people who list themselves on job search sites. Pretending to be potential employers, they ask for your social security number and other personal information. Follow the advice above and verify the person’s identity before providing any personal information.
Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information. It’s hard to tell whether something is legitimate by looking at an email or a Web site, or talking to someone on the phone. But if you’re contacted out of the blue and asked for your personal information, it’s a warning sign that something is “phishy.” Legitimate companies and agencies don’t operate that way.
Act immediately if you’ve been hooked by a phisher. If you provided account numbers, PINS, or passwords to a phisher, notify the companies with whom you have the accounts right away. For information about how to put a “fraud alert” on your files at the credit reporting bureaus and other advice for ID theft victims, contact the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Clearinghouse, 877-438-4338, TDD 202-326-2502.
Report phishing, whether you’re a victim or not. Tell the company or agency that the phisher was impersonating. You can also report the problem to law enforcement agencies through the National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch, www.fraud.org or 800-876-7060, TDD 202-835-0778. The information you provide helps to stop identity theft.