The problem of phishing, pronounced just like “fishing” and very similar in tactics, continues to grow in the USA. In short, unscrupulous persons attempt to defraud unsuspecting consumers by imitating legitimate businesses through email and fake websites. Most scams begin with an email that is broadcast to millions in the hope that a small percentage will take the bait.
These thieves impersonate real businesses such as eBay or PayPal and large banks or credit card companies, and they use scare tactics in their email message asking the reader to visit their site immediately to help them recover missing information.
The link provided in the email then takes the victim to a bogus site designed to look like an official website, however, the request to reconfirm personal information such as account numbers, passwords, or social security numbers is a scam. Once the criminal has collected your personal data the real nightmare begins.
Crime never takes a vacation, and daily errors in judgment has cost countless people and small business owners in the USA time and money attempting to recover losses from stolen identity. Avoid becoming a victim if you receive any email that may be suspicious. Instead of following the website link in the email, open your browser and visit the official site and look for “support”, “news”, or “FAQs” to search for details.
The legitimate companies will have announcements on their sites including advice if there is a problem. If you have any doubt, email their customer support department and explain the message you received or call them by telephone.
Have you become a victim of phishing or identity theft? The US Federal Trade Commission outlines 4 steps to take if you suspect your identity and personal financial information has been compromised.
1. Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
2. Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
3. File your complaint with the FTC using their ID Theft Affidavit available at the ftc.gov website.
4. File a report with your local police or the authorities in the community where the identity theft took place. Provide law enforcement with a copy of your FTC ID Theft complaint form and get a copy of their police report or report number.
There are steps you can take to minimize your risk of being contacted by fraudulent parties. As an individual, avoid making your email address public and consider using a “throw away email address” for sites that interest you and require email contact.
The throw away address is one used for a specific purpose, and that purpose only, so any email you receive to that email box should be easier to recognize as from a legitimate source. Small business owners with websites can avoid having their email harvested by spam bots and then sold to mail lists by cloaking their address on their site. Simple code allows site owners to “display” their address when a visitor moves over a link, but the code cannot be recognized as an email address by spam bots.
Finally, junk mail is a common problem for everyone. The last piece of advice to avoid having spammers distribute your email address is never reply to junk mail or visit a link to be removed from their mailing list. They may never contact you again, but your reply confirms the address is valid and active, and they may sell your address to another spammer.
In conclusion, all of the above activities are illegal and regulated by the FTC in the USA, and prosecuted by the Department of Justice. International scams, or moving target spammers who close under one name and reopen with another, still make this an ongoing problem. Learn the basics of protecting your personal information and react quickly to make reports if you feel you or your small business have been a victim of phishing.