It’s happened to us all: we get an email that appears to be from a bank or credit card issuer claiming that we need to fill out a form, change our password, or provide other information. But on closer examination, there are misspelled words, odd grammar, or links to unfamiliar sites that lead us to question whether the email is legitimate.
These are phishing scams – attempts to get access to personal information like Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, PINs, passwords and more. Criminals then use that information to drain bank accounts, run up credit card charges, open new accounts, or even get tax refunds and other government benefits that belong to other people.
The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), backed by the international payment network Visa, Inc. is launching a new campaign to raise awareness about phishing scams, which still lure in many people each day. In 2012 it was the fourth most common scam reported to the National Consumers League, and ranked number eight in the Federal Trade Commission’s top ten most-reported fraud schemes.
Slam the Door on Phishing Scams, the CFA’s tip sheet issued in conjunction with the anti-phishing campaign, offers the following guidelines to remember in order to avoid being a victim of a scam:
- Greet any request for personal information with a healthy dose of skepticism. Who is asking for the information, and why do they need it? Does the message contain typos or other mistakes not typical of a legitimate company?
- Don’t fall for scare tactics about suspending your account or imposing a penalty – those are often used by scammers to get you to act first and ask questions later.
- Think before you click. Many links contain viruses that access your information, so don’t click on any links in an email from an unfamiliar sender. If the email is from your bank or credit card issuer and directs you to click through to their site, open another browser window and type in their web address directly.
- Put anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer, create passcodes for your tablets and smartphones, and make sure all electronic devices are secure and locked down to prevent information theft.
- If you think your information may have been compromised, act quickly. Notify your financial institution and go to http://www.idtheftinfo.org/ to find out what to do next.
More information, including video clips detailing specific scams, is available on the CFA website. You can also take this handy quiz to assess your risk of having your identity stolen, from the University of Oklahoma’s police department.
Consumers can also follow the CFA and Visa on Twitter for more tips and alerts: @ConsumerFed and @VisaSecurity.