Beware of the Newest Activity Online: Phishing

No. I'm not talking here about the outdoor activity enjoyed by many. And no again; I did not misspell it. Phishing is the name given to the latest online scam where millions of unwary Americans are getting their identities stolen.

This fraudulent activity is considered the fastest growing crime of modern times. The favorite target groups of phishers seem to be very young children and senior citizens, as they do not often ask for credit reports, fill out credit card applications or solicit loans. This allows the thieves to go undetected for longer periods of time; but still, be careful. We all are potential targets.

Remember when throwing away unshredded documents with personal information in the trash bin was considered a big risk for identity theft? While this still happens, identity thieves have become more sophisticated in recent times, and this is how they do it...

Phishers create bogus e-mails that look as if they came from large, well-known institutions and banks, such as eBay, Paypal, Citibank, EarthLink, and many others. These e-mails claim that you are due for an account update, or that the account number, password, social security number or other confidential information needs to be verified. Then they warn you, stating that if you do not do it within a certain period of time, that your account will be closed, terminated, the service discontinued, or something to that effect.

They even provide you with links to websites that look legitimate, because they hijack the real logos of these well known banks, and trusted institutions and companies. And that is the scary part... these e-mails look 100% legitimate, but they are not.

In some cases it goes even further... some of these phishers are installing spyware on your computer to monitor your online activities. So... should you leave the online world for good? Not necessarily.

These are a few things you can do to protect yourself from these scammers:

1. Do not respond to any e-mail that asks for personal information from you, such as account number, credit card number, user names, passwords, etc. If you suspect that the e-mail, indeed, be legitimate, contact your bank or institution to verify this.

2. When in doubt, visit the Anti-Phishing Working Group for an update of the latest scams, and tips to avoid becoming a victim. The website's URL is http://www.antiphishing.org

3. Websites like http://www.Paypal.com, http://www.citibank.com, and http://www.ebay.com, offer security tips and tell you what information they'd never ask for in an e-mail.

4. Get anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date.

5. If you suspect you have received a fraudulent e-mail, do not click on any links within it.

Finally, if you suspect you've been a victim of this fraud, get a copy of your credit report immediately to check for unusual activity. If you discover that you've been a victim of identity theft, close your account at once and...

- Call the Credit Bureau.

- File a police report.

- Alert other financial institutions where you have accounts.

According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, phishers send millions of e-mails a day, getting about 5% response. Even with this low response, it is estimated that about 150,000 Americans have fallen prey to these scams since May of 2004. Get informed. Do not become a victim yourself.

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