Email and Online Fraud

“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”

“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn't verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

Have you received email with a similar message? It’s a scam called “phishing” — and it involves Internet fraudsters who send spam or pop-up messages to lure personal information (credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information) from unsuspecting victims.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, phishers send an email or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you may deal with — for example, an Internet service provider (ISP), bank, online payment service, or even a government agency. The message may ask you to “update,” “validate,” or “confirm” your account information. Some phishing emails threaten a dire consequence if you don’t respond. The messages direct you to a website that looks just like a legitimate organization’s site. But it isn’t. It’s a bogus site whose sole purpose is to trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name. We recommend these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:

  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don't click on the link in the message, either. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email 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 yourself. In any case, don't cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser — phishers can make links look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a different site.
  • Don't email personal or financial information such as Social Security numbers, usernames, passwords, PIN (Personal Identification Number) or account numbers. Email 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 “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain viruses or other software that can weaken your computer’s security.
  • Be cautious about emails you receive that have a sense of urgency for you to provide information immediately, citing a specific thing that might happen. For example, your account may be closed or temporarily suspended.
  • Be on the lookout for emails that have spelling errors and/or bad grammar. Intentional spelling errors may allow the email to get through spam filters used by ISPs (Internet Service Providers), or could be the by-products of foreign-based crime syndicates where many of these scams originate.
  • Some people "test" for online fraud by entering incorrect information. If the information is accepted, then they feel they can determine that it's an email fraud. Criminals are now aware that people perform this test, and may not accept the information entered first. The best defense is not to enter any personal information at a website you link to from an unsolicited email.
  • Forward spam that is phishing for information to spam@uce.gov and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email. Most organizations have information on their websites about where to report problems.

If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at ftc.gov , and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft website . Victims of phishing can become victims of identity theft. While you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps to minimize your risk. If an identity thief is opening credit accounts in your name, these new accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You may catch an incident early if you order a free copy of your credit report periodically from any of the three major credit bureaus. See annualcreditreport.com for details on ordering a free annual credit report.