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Don't Take the Bait from Phishing Scams

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By Tiffany Brewington - Editor
Record Information Services
September 2007

Who doesn’t love getting e-mail? After many years of owning online accounts, I still get excited when I open my inbox and see the new number of unread messages. Whether it’s from friends, family, or companies I do business with, I am always eager to click on the subject line and see what message awaits me. The wonderful thing about e-mail is that the messages I receive are specifically for me, and I always know who the sender is. Or do I? 

We all get spam-mail occasionally from companies that have collected our information from a form we filled out online, or another source, but if you have a spam filter (like Yahoo offers) many of these messages never get the liberty of passing before your eyes. Therefore the mail that makes it to my Inbox is from businesses I have an account with: sending me a monthly statement or a promotion for a new product or service. The problem is that scam artists posing as trusted businesses send these e-mails out too, in an attempt to get the customer to forfeit personal account data. The average user does not distinguish these e-mails from legitimate ones – and winds up being caught victim from a Phishing attack.

Phishing attacks are nothing new but people who don’t regularly check their credit reports or monitor their accounts may not know much about phishing. That is because e-mails from these criminals have the look and feel of well-known trusted companies, but their message convinces the customer to submit sensitive personal data such as user names and passwords.
Here are a few characteristics of Phishing or “spoof” e-mails:


  • The message may use a general greeting such as “Dear User” instead of your actual full name. You should always be suspicious if there is no display of personal information on the e-mail.
  • The message may state that you must “Verify” your information, claiming that your security has been jeopardized.
  • The e-mail requests that you submit personal information within the e-mail itself, such as your User ID or Password.
  • It claims a sense of urgency to you responding.
  • It threatens the status of your account if you do not respond right away.
  • Often, the link in the e-mail will redirect you to a different URL than stated in the e-mail. 
  • There may be misspellings in the message.
Also, it is important to note that spoof e-mails may still have the correct company’s logo and name in the message, the URL, or the link, as these can be easily altered.
Many companies are taking steps to help protect their customers from falling victim to phishing e-mails. Two of the major companies being targeted are eBay and Paypal. eBay has a security center where you can easily report fake-looking e-mails. eBay also offers a downloadable Toolbar with Account Guard, which lets the user know when they are on an eBay or PayPal Web site, and alerts them if they are on a potential fraudulent site.
Other companies are protecting sensitive information by extending their log-in process by asking additional security questions, or asking the customer to choose a “security image” that will appear. The customer should only continue logging in if the correct image appears on the screen.  
Here are a few ways you can protect yourself from falling victim to Phishing attempts:


  • Follow the steps listed above to help yourself recognize possible fraudulent e-mails.
  • You should never provide contact, sign-in or other sensitive personal information in an email.
  • User Spam filters in your e-mail to reduce the number of phishing e-mails that make it to your Inbox.
  • Update your firewalls and security patches frequently.
  • Report all suspicious looking e-mails to the company you do business with, outside of the e-mail that you received. Call or e-mail that company through a separate e-mail, using the contacts you were given when you opened the account with them.
  •  Report phishing to online organizations such as PhishTank.com, which investigates spoof e-mails.

Other good ways to constantly monitor your accounts, and your good name:

  • Always use hard-to-decipher user names and passwords
  • Monitor the status of your online and offline accounts
  •  Check your credit reports and public records often to make sure everything is correct
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