April 23, 2005 -- Internet "phishing" is the latest online scam that lures people into giving out their personal and financial information. An estimated 79 million Americans have been targeted in these phishing scams, which allow hackers to steal people's money and even their identities.
The way phishing often works is that people will receive e-mails from what they think are legitimate companies such as eBay or PayPal, saying their account has been corrupted and they need to supply their personal information again. The e-mail will usually contain a link to a Web site that looks identical to the homepages of the legitimate companies -- except the Web sites are fake.
The victims innocently input all of their personal information -- account numbers, social security numbers, passwords, etc. -- into the fake Web sites and then the scammers lift it all to steal identities.
Technology expert Becky Worley offered several tips on what to look for in phishing scams and how to avoid becoming a victim.
What to Watch Out For
Beware requests for personal information. Phishers use alarming statements to get people to enter their information, such as "your account may be closed immediately," or "we're updating our customer information." Financial institutions are aware of these scams and don't use e-mail to solicit sensitive information from customers.
Beware impersonal greetings. Most phishing scams will not address you by name, but will be mass mailings sent to the more general "sir or madam."
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Don't e-mail personal information.
Don't click through links in e-mails.
Contact the real company to alert them of the scam, but also to try to minimize any damage if you have given out personal information.
Check your credit report. If you have given your information out, report it to the major credit bureaus so they can put a fraud alert on your account.
Check your accounts frequently for unusual activity.