2010-08-13 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Avoiding Phishing Scams
By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Not long ago, the Internet was considered by many to be a new “wild west” for criminals, providing fertile ground and millions of potential victims upon whom to prey. Thankfully, in recent years, new privacy safeguards, advanced anti-virus software, and consumer education campaigns have helped to combat electronic crime. Unfortunately, one of the most popular online scams – phishing – continues unabated, with new attacks blasted to countless e-mail addresses on a daily basis. In order to avoid becoming a victim of this widespread scam, keep the following information and tips in mind when checking your e-mail. The term “phishing” (FISHing) refers to online scams in which thieves attempt to lure consumers into divulging their passwords and financial information through the use of fraudulent electronic communication. Phishing fraudsters send e-mail messages requesting that consumers divulge their personal information. These e-mails often claim to be from a business or organization with which the consumer may already be familiar, such as an Internet service provider, bank, credit card company, online payment service, or government agency. These e-mails often ask recipients to “confirm” or “validate” account information by responding and providing sensitive personal information, and sometimes these messages threaten that severe consequences will occur if the recipient does not respond.

It is important to recognize phishing e-mails so that you can delete them immediately. Some examples of common phishing e-mails include messages that ask you to update your account or confirm your identity, messages from a financial institution asking you to change your password, or messages in which the sender poses as a government agency asking for your personal information. As a general rule, treat any messages that contain spelling and grammatical errors, urgent requests, or suspicious links or attachments as potential phishing emails. If you receive a phishing e-mail, do not respond or click on any link contained in the message. Legitimate businesses and organizations NEVER request personal information through e-mail. Contact the business or organization named in the e-mail using a phone number that you know to be valid, report the suspicious e-mail, and inquire about the security of your account. Forward the message to the named organization or business and the Federal Trade Commission at: spam@uce.gov. Messages sent to this address are stored in a database law enforcement agencies use in their investigations. Additionally, you may wish to report the phishing e-mail to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), which is an industry association committed to eliminating phishing, at: http://www.antiphishing.org/

If you believe that your personal information has been compromised by a phishing scam, be sure to check your credit reports and financial statements closely for any account changes or unauthorized charges. If you find irregular activity, contact the NYS Consumer Protection Board for assistance by calling: 1-800-697-1220, or by writing to: 5 Empire State Plaza, Suite 2101, Albany, New York 12223. You may also want to consider placing a fraud alert on your credit files. There are two types of fraud alerts, and both can be placed free of charge. An initial alert remains on your credit file for up to 90 days and requires creditors to contact you for confirmation before opening any new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. An extended fraud alert provides the same protection, but lasts for seven years and requires creditors to call or contact you in the method you designate once you have placed the alert. Those requesting an extended alert must submit a copy of a report filed with a law enforcement agency. To place a fraud alert you may contact Equifax at: 1-800-525-6285, www.equi fax.com, or P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; Experian at: 1-888- EXPERIAN (397-3742), www.experian .com, or P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013; or TransUnion at: 1-800-680- 7289, www.transunion.com, or Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.

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