E-mail phishing attacks are attempts by criminals to get your personal information. Criminals send spam e-mails hoping for someone to believe their message. The messages are created to sound and look like official notices. Information entered into these websites goes directly to the criminal. These e-mails and web sites usually look trustworthy and convincing. Here are some ways to keep your personal information safe:
- Don't click on links within emails that ask for your personal information. Fraudsters use these links to lure people to phony Web sites that look just like the real site of the company, organization, or agency they're impersonating. If you follow the instructions and enter your personal information on the Web site, you'll deliver it directly into the hands of identity thieves. A trustworthy organization will never request sensitive information by email.
- Protect your computer with spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall, and keep them up to date. A spam filter can help reduce the number of phishing emails you get. Anti-virus software, which scans incoming messages for troublesome files, and anti-spyware software, which looks for programs that have been installed on your computer and track your online activities without your knowledge, can protect you against pharming and other techniques that phishers use. Firewalls prevent hackers and unauthorized communications from entering your computer - which is especially important if you have a broadband connection because your computer is open to the Internet whenever it's turned on. Look for programs that offer automatic updates and take advantage of free patches that manufacturers offer to fix newly discovered problems.
- If someone contacts you and says you've been a victim of fraud, verify the person's identity before you provide any personal information. Legitimate credit card issuers and other companies may contact you if there is an unusual pattern indicating that someone else might be using one of your accounts. But usually they only ask if you made particular transactions; they don't request your account number or other personal information. Law enforcement agencies might also contact you if you've been the victim of fraud. To be on the safe side, ask for the person's name, the name of the agency or company, the telephone number, and the address. Get the main number from the phone book, the Internet, or directory assistance, then call to find out if the person is legitimate.
- Act immediately if you believe your information may have been compromised. If you believe you have provided account numbers, PINS, or passwords to a phisher, notify the companies with whom you have the accounts right away. For information about how to put a "fraud alert" on your files at the credit reporting bureaus and other advice for ID theft victims, contact the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Clearinghouse, or 877-438-4338
- Report phishing, whether you're a victim or not. Tell the company or agency that the phisher was impersonating. You can also report the problem to law enforcement agencies through the National Consumer League's Fraud Center, The information you provide helps to stop identity theft.
More than ever, criminals are targeting smaller organizations because more consumers recognize and trust local brands. Be cautious, suspicious, and aware of what information e-mails are requesting.
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