How Not to Get Hooked By a "Phishing" Scam
SCAMS: SPECIAL INVESTIGATION SERIES
By Dean Phillips
Monday, November 22, 2004; 7:50pm EST
First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, "Phishing"
is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive you
into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information,
Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information.
Phishers send an e-mail or pop-up message that claims to be from a
business or organization that you deal with--for example, your
Internet service provider (ISP), bank, online payment service, or
even a government agency. The message usually says that you need to
"update" or "validate" your account information.
It might even threaten some dire consequence if you don't respond.
The message directs you to a website that looks exactly like a
legitimate organization's site, but it's not. The purpose of the
bogus site is to trick you into divulging your personal information
so the fraudsters can steal your identity and your money and run up
bills or commit crimes in your name.
Recent phishing victims include Yahoo, Citibank, eBay, Best Buy and
Bank of America among others.
The Federal Trade Commission, (FTC) the nation's consumer protection
agency, suggests these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a
If you get an email 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
email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the
organization in the e-mail using a telephone number you know to be
genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the
company's correct web address. DO NOT click on the link in the
Don't e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not a
secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate
a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial
information through an organization's website, look for indicators
that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status
bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for
Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged
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
such unwanted files.
Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome
files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses
as well as older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and
that updates automatically.
I personally use Norton AntiVirus and have never had any virus
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 haven't already done so, I highly recommend installing
Microsoft's Service Pack 2. SP2 tightens your PC's security with a
new Windows Firewall, an improved Automatic Updates feature, and a
pop-up ad blocker for Internet Explorer. Plus, the newly minted
Security Center gives you one easy-to-use interface for keeping tabs
on your PC's security apps.
In addition, be extra careful about opening any attachment or
downloading any files from e-mails you receive, regardless of who
Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is
phishing for information, forward it to email@example.com.
If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at:
http://www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft website
http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn how to minimize your risk
of damage from ID theft.
About the Author
Dean Phillips is an Internet marketing expert, writer,
publisher and entrepreneur. Questions? Comments? Dean can be
reached at mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org
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About the Author