Don’t Become a Victim
A type of cyber-scam known as “phishing”
is on a dramatic upswing in Wisconsin, and I’ve heard from
a number of consumers who thought I should warn readers about
it. The scam starts with consumers receiving what on the surface
appear to be e-mails from trusted organizations—their banks,
familiar on-line companies, even government agencies.
One consumer, for example, received
an e-mail informing him, “Your card was used by another
person or stolen. It could happen if you have been shopping on-line,
and someone got your billing information including your card number.”
He was then told, “To avoid and prevent any billing mistakes
and to refund your credit card, it is strongly recommended to
proceed filling in the secure form on our site.” The consumer
was referred to a website that looked authentic. However, he became
suspicious and decided to complain about the e-mail to state Consumer
Protection officials. They were able to verify that the site was
a phony, designed to extract information such as Social Security
numbers and then route the information to identity thieves.
Bank One recently alerted its customers
that criminals are sending out e-mails asking for personal identifying
information to maintain Bank One accounts. Consumers are asked
to supply the information on a web site Bank One said looked very
much like the bank’s legitimate website.
AOL customers have also been “phished.”
Last November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the successful
criminal prosecution of a Virginia woman who sent fake e-mails
to AOL customers announcing that they must update their credit
card information to maintain their AOL accounts.
Other consumers received e-mails
purporting to come from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
(FDIC) that ask for verification of personal financial information—including
bank account numbers—at a phony web site created to look
like the real FDIC home page.
Wisconsin Consumer Protection spokesperson
Glen Loyd told me his agency has received many complaints about
fake websites, and several investigations are underway.
How do you protect yourself from
phishing? First, ask your Internet service provider how you can
screen unwanted e-mails that are commonly referred to as “spam.”
Second, avoid e-mailing personal and financial information. If
you get an unexpected e-mail from a company or government agency
asking for your personal information, contact the company or agency
cited in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine
or start a new Internet session and type in the web address that
you know is correct. Third, report the e-mail to the Federal Bureau
of Investigation at www.ic3.gov
or contact Wisconsin Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128.
If you fall victim, notify your
bank and credit card company immediately. Discuss with them whether
your account should be closed and whether a fraud watch should
be placed on your credit report. Be careful out in cyberspace!