Combating a New Type of Identity Theft
Recently, Internet scammers have developed more sophisticated ways of obtaining folks' personal financial information .they target victims by going "phishing."
Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive people into divulging sensitive information like their credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number and the like.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found that phishers send e-mail or pop-up messages that claim to be from businesses or organizations that an individual deals with like your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or bank. The message usually claims that they need you to "update" your account information and typically directs you to a web site which at first glance appears legitimate. The objective is simply to deceive you into divulging your personal information with the intent of committing identity theft or running up bills in your name.
According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, which serves as a public and industry resource for information about the problem of phishing and e-mail fraud, phishing attacks were up 19 percent in June 2004. The Group also found that reports of phishing have been growing at a rate of 75 percent each month since December 2003.
Recently President Bush signed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which amends the criminal code to prescribe jail time for anyone who possesses another's identification-related information with intent to commit a crime. While this and other laws already on the books will be critical in curbing growing attempts at fraud in the form of identity theft, it is also imperative that folks recognize these attempts for what they are and know what to do when confronted with it.
There are some basic steps that consumers can take to avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam. If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not click on or reply to the link. Generally speaking e-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal information, so you should avoid sending sensitive information via e-mail. Review credit card and bank account statements as soon you receive them, to ensure that there are no erroneous charges. And use up-to-date anti-virus software. Some phishing e-mail contains software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge.
You can also report suspicious activity to the FTC through its web site at www.ftc.gov <