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Phishing: Consumers take the bait

A classic Internet scam is ensnaring a growing number of victims, prompting groups to offer advice.

By Mitch Lipka May 15, 2013 6:40PM

With the number of consumers falling victim to phishing attacks on the rise, there is a renewed push to get people to recognize the warning signs.


A toy shark holding U.S. dollar bills © Diane Macdonald, PhotographerPhishing — typically emails that fool the victim into believing they're answering a request for information from a company they do business with — is one of the most common and longest running types of internet scams. Yet losses increased by more than 20% in 2012, according to the security firm RSA.


So the Consumer Federation of America and Visa Inc. are trying to bring more attention to the problem.


"There are many variations of phishing scams and new ones pop up every day," said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the federation. "If someone suddenly appeared at your door asking for your personal information, you’d be suspicious — and rightfully so. We want people to realize that it should be no different when someone approaches you online or by phone asking for that information."


Because the attacks can be done cheaply and reach millions of people, scammers keep launching them. And consumers oblige, providing their personal and financial information — even passwords and Social Security numbers.


Giving up such information opens the gateway to identity theft, helping thieves collect enough information so that they can open credit in the victim's name or even file a phony tax return to collect a refund.

Some phishing scams have gotten more elaborate over time, in some cases utilizing bits of information already collected about the targets — appearing to be contacts from, say, the victim's actual bank and using the proper logos — making the requests appear authentic.

"Phishing scams are all too prevalent, and fraudsters are getting increasingly sophisticated at impersonating trusted organizations," said Jennifer Fischer, head of Americas payment system security for Visa. "It’s important for consumers to be aware of this popular tactic and be alert whenever they receive a request for their personal or payment information."

The CFA today issued new tips to help consumers avoid phishing scams. Here are some highlights:

  • If you receive a request for information, ask yourself why such information would be needed from the alleged sender.
  • Beware of requests that have a threat attached or a rapidly approaching deadline.
  • Be suspicious of emails with typos and other errors and those coming from companies, such as a package delivery company, that you have no business with.
  • Just because an email looks authentic doesn't mean it is.
  • Don't ever click on links embedded in emails. "Think before you click." If you don't, you could end up downloading spyware that could capture your personal information.
  • Phishing can come by phone, text and on social networks, too. So apply the same restraint when you are approached for information.
  • Keep your virus protection and anti-spyware software up to date.
You can see an example of a phishing email with an explanation of how to spot the warning signs on a page put together by Visa.

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3Comments
May 16, 2013 12:16PM
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Think in the article you might tell someone where they should report suspected scams?
May 16, 2013 1:38PM
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We have heard about these scams so many times, and we have heard the "don't do X" advice so many times, that maybe at this point, whoever falls for it deserves it. That's the only way they'll learn, because they have obviously not been listening. The ones I worry about are people who develop forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's. I sympathize with the frustrations of their loved ones, who are trying to keep them from harm and loss because they are losing their critical faculties.
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