Gone Phishing

Gone Phishing

During these last lazy days of summer, a fishing trip might seem like a great idea as a favorite past time for many.

But beware of other types of ‘phishermen’ on ‘phishing expeditions.’

Phishing is the favorite process of scam artists to try to get consumers to divulge personal identification information like account numbers, Social Security Numbers or addresses.

Once a scamster has your personal information it can wreak havoc on your personal financial management.

Methods familiar to most include elaborate imitation websites combined with emails and some type of message that your account information needs to be reverified because of some sort of special offer or need to update the institution’s account database.

With the recent credit crisis and proliferation of special loan programs, homeowners have been favorite targets. One example: Email solicitations by a legitimate-sounding credit union advertising low rates for mortgage refinancing. Or emails offering loan modification programs or ways to stop foreclosure.

Other techniques are taking advantage of the trend toward the use of more social networking sites. With the advent of such resources like Linked In, Twitter or Facebook, some identity thieves will find enough personal information (i.e. employment, residence, education) to help them become you.

Remember that a government agency or financial institution will never ask you to provide your personal identifying information in an unsolicited email. One way to check the authenticity of any such email is to scroll over any visible links in the email to see the website suffix. Anything other than ‘.com,’ or ‘.gov’ or ‘.org’ might be indicating a non-US-based computer server and a likely scam source. Also consider scrolling across the bottom of the subject email. Sometimes there are hidden links which may also provide an indication of the foreign origin of the email.

If in doubt, call the agency or firm directly but use a phone number provided from one of your statements, not from the email. You can also check on the legitimacy of the source by checking with the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) or trade organizations.

For instance, a visit to the National Credit Union Association ( www.ncua.gov ) determined that the credit union refinance offer was phony. Banks, financial services firms and insurers all have regulators and industry trade groups that can verify the legitimate existence of an organization.

Not all ‘phishing’ expeditions are hi-tech. Some are as low-tech as rummaging through garbage cans and dumpsters for mail showing account numbers. Others include phone calls using the same message of ‘updating account information’ as noted in the email version above.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Be careful about leaving information lying around. When on line, clear your ‘cookies’ often and avoid leaving your passwords or credit card information pre-filled at financial websites you visit. Make sure that your computer is protected with updated versions of anti-spyware, anti-malware and pop-up blockers. Check your credit report to make sure it is accurate and that no new unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name. Get your free copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com.

Off-line you can protect yourself by shredding old financial records as well as credit card offers since these are prime sources for dumpster divers.

Don’t just throw away old computers, hard drives or cell phones. There is too much information on them that can be retrieved by a tech savvy ID thief. Hard drives should be shredded or use a baseball bat. You’ll protect yourself and be able to vent a little to get even with all the frustration that technology may have caused you.

With a little effort, you can protect yourself and not become bait for an unwanted ‘phisherman.’