"Phishing" Fraud: How to Avoid Getting Fried by Phony Phishermen
“Phishing” involves the use of fraudulent emails and copy-cat websites to trick you into revealing
valuable personal information — such as account numbers for banking, securities, mortgage, or credit
accounts, your social security numbers, and the login IDs and passwords you use when accessing online
financial services providers. The fraudsters who collect this information then use it to steal your
money or your identity or both.
When fraudsters go on “phishing” expeditions, they lure their targets into a false sense of security by
hijacking the familiar, trusted logos of established, legitimate companies. A typical phishing scam
starts with a fraudster sending out millions of emails that appear to come from a high-profile financial
services provider or a respected Internet auction house.
The email will usually ask you to provide valuable information about yourself or to “verify” information
that you previously provided when you established your online account. To maximize the chances that a
recipient will respond, the fraudster might employ any or all of the following tactics:
- Names of Real Companies — Rather than create from scratch a phony company, the fraudster might use a
legitimate company’s name and incorporate the look and feel of its website (including the color scheme and
graphics) into the phishy email.
- “From” an Actual Employee — The “from” line or the text of the message (or both) might contain the
names of real people who actually work for the company. That way, if you contacted the company to confirm
whether “Jane Doe” truly is “VP of Client Services,” you’d get a positive response and feel assured.
- URLs that “Look Right” — The email might include a convenient link to a seemingly legitimate website
where you can enter the information the fraudster wants to steal. But in reality the website will be a
quickly cobbled copy-cat — a “spoofed” website that looks for all the world like the real thing. In some
cases, the link might lead to select pages of a legitimate website — such as the real company’s actual
- Urgent Messages — Many fraudsters use fear to trigger a response, and phishers are no different. In
common phishing scams, the emails warn that failure to respond will result in your no longer having access
to your account. Other emails might claim that the company has detected suspicious activity in your account
or that it is implementing new privacy software or identity theft solutions.
How to Protect Yourself from Phishing
The best way you can protect yourself from phony phishers is to understand what legitimate financial
service providers and respectable online auction houses will and will not do. Most importantly, legitimate
entities will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive information through a non-secure means, such as
Follow these five simple steps to protect yourself from phishers:
- Pick Up the Phone to Verify — Do not respond to any emails that request personal or financial
information, especially ones that use pressure tactics or prey on fear. If you have reason to believe that
a financial institution actually does need personal information from you, pick up the phone and call the
company yourself — using the number in your rolodex, not the one the email provides!
- Do Your Own Typing — Rather than merely clicking on the link provided in the email, type the URL into
your web browser yourself (or use a bookmark you previously created). Even though a URL in an email may
look like the real deal, fraudsters can mask the true destination.
- Beef Up Your Security — Personal firewalls and security software packages (with anti-virus, anti-spam,
and spyware detection features) are a must-have for those who engage in online financial transactions.
Make sure your computer has the latest security patches, and make sure that you conduct your financial
transactions only on a secure web page using encryption. You can tell if a page is secure in a couple of
ways. Look for a closed padlock in the status bar, and see that the URL starts with “https” instead of
Security Tip: Some phishers make spoofed websites which appear to have padlocks. To double-check, click
on the padlock icon on the status bar to see the security certificate for the site. Following the
“Issued to” in the pop-up window you should see the name matching the site you think you’re on. If the
name differs, you are probably on a spoofed site.
- Read Your Statements — Don’t toss aside your monthly account statements! Read them thoroughly as soon
as they arrive to make sure that all transactions shown are ones that you actually made, and check to see
whether all of the transactions that you thought you made appear as well. Be sure that the company has
current contact information for you, including your mailing address and email address.
- Spot the Sharks — Visit the website of the Anti-Phishing Working Group at
www.antiphishing.org for a
list of current phishing attacks and the latest news in the fight to prevent phishing. There you’ll find
more information about phishing and links to helpful resources.
What to Do if You Run into Trouble
Always act quickly when you come face to face with a potential fraud, especially if you’ve lost money
or believe your identity has been stolen.
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