2005-10-28 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer


Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So goes the saying attributed to Henry de Bracton, a thirteenth-century English judge. This age-old saying certainly holds meaning when it comes to identity theft, because it is far easier to prevent identity theft than it is to undo the damage once the fraud has occurred.

As identity theft becomes increasingly popular among financial criminals, it also becomes increasingly important that consumers remain knowledgeable about current scams and how to prevent them.

One of the most prevalent forms of identity theft is commonly referred to as “Phishing.” Like many other forms of identity theft, the Internet acts as the facilitator.

Phishing fraudsters send e-mails or pop-up messages asking consumers to divulge their personal information such as their account passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other sensitive information.

These e-mails often claim to be from a business or organization that you may already be familiar with such as an Internet service provider, bank, credit card company, online payment service, or government agency.

These e-mails ask recipients to “confirm” or “validate” account information by responding and providing sensitive personal information, and sometimes these scams threaten that severe consequences will occur if the recipient does not respond.

Legitimate businesses and organizations never request personal information through e-mail.

If you ever receive a request for personal information through e-mail or a pop-up, do not respond or click on the link. If you are concerned about your account, contact the business or organization named in the e-mail or pop-up using a phone number that you know to be valid.

You should also forward the e-mail to the named organization or business as well as to spam@uce.gov. Additionally, you may wish to file a complaint at the Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov, and visit their identity theft webpage at www.consumer.gov/ idtheft because phishing victims may become victims of identity theft.

If you believe that your personal information may be compromised or that you may become a victim of identity theft, be sure to check your bank and credit card statements closely for account changes or unauthorized charges.

Additionally, you may contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. Once you contact one bureau, the others will be alerted as well, and any creditors will be required up to ninety days to contact you for confirmation before opening any new accounts or making changes to existing accounts for.

This service is free, and once you have placed a fraud alert on your account, you will be entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Once you have received the reports, be sure to check for unauthorized accounts that may have been opened or for any other discrepancies.

A new twist on phishing is being labeled “spear-phishing,” which is more targeted than regular phishing scams. Spear-phishing e-mails often claim to come from the recipient’s human resources or information technology department.

These e-mails often ask the recipient to update their username and password, enabling fraudsters to use this valuable information to gain access to secure networks.

Other spear-phishing e-mails may request the recipient to provide the information after clicking a link, which enables the fraudster to install Spyware to gain access to secure information.

If you receive an e-mail requesting sensitive information that claims to be from your human resources or information technology department, do not respond. Call your human resources or information technology department to inquire and report the e-mail.

To learn more about phishing or protecting your personal information, please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website at www.ftc.gov or its Identity Theft website at http://www.consumer.gov/ idtheft/. You may also contact the FTC by calling their toll-free number at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or for TTY, 1-866-653-4261.

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