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May 17, 2005
Avoid Taking the Bait from Online Phishing Scams

Phishing, the practice of luring unsuspecting victims to disclose sensitive information online, has quickly become the fastest-growing security threat to Internet users. Here is some information about how to prevent yourself from being victimized by phishers.

Tips to Prevent Phishing

An unsolicited email could be a phishing scam if it:

  • Doesn't address you by your full name.
  • Asks you to provide personal or financial information, such as your bank or credit card account number, an account password or PIN, your Social Security number or mother's maiden name.
  • Warns that you have been the victim of fraud or that your account will be closed unless you respond quickly.
  • Tells you that you have won a prize or vacation and just need to "confirm" certain information.
  • Has spelling or grammatical errors you wouldn't expect a professional business to make.

Ways to avoid phishing scams include:

  • Never transmit sensitive personal or financial information via email.
  • Emails or pop-up messages that ask for personal or financial information should be deleted. Legitimate companies won't ask for this information online.
  • Never open attachments from someone you don't know or if they seem suspicious.
  • Never follow links (click on them) included in emails from someone you don't know or that seem suspicious.
  • Be careful which websites you view and/or submit your personal information on. 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 with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”)*.
  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges.
  • Use anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date, especially if you have a broadband connection. Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting unwanted files that may be phishing or contain viruses.

For more information consult the following websites:

FTC: How Not to Get Hooked by a ‘Phishing’ Scam
Anti-Phishing Work Group
Consumer Report: You've Got Fraud

*Unfortunately, no indicator or method of prevention is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons or created websites that are surprisingly similar to those of legitimate businesses.

The best advice is that if you are unsure about a message you have received or a website you have come across, to confirm the legitimacy of these items by telephoning the company from which these items seemingly originate from. To do so, your should use a phone number published in a telephone directory or on any financial statements you have received in the past.