[Arlington, VA., May 11, 2006] -- Sometimes the subject lines hint at great wealth ("Triple your income"). Other times, they imply that a business stands ready to give you a great deal ("We have four lenders competing to refinance your home"). Frequently, the e-mail is disguised to appear to be from a legitimate financial institution ("Please update your online banking records") or a government agency ("Get tax refund on your Visa or MasterCard").
While these and other unsolicited e-mails may appear to be legitimate, Better Business Bureaus know otherwise. "Con artists use emotional triggers when targeting unsuspecting consumers and employ the latest technology tools to expand their pool of victims," said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
BBBs in the U.S. and Canada are reaching out this month to remind consumers to "play it safe" on the Internet and protect their personal information when shopping, banking or investing online. The Internet offers a convenient, easy and safe means to shop for products and services when consumers use common sense and select reputable merchants.
"If you don't know the sender of an e-mail and you provide any personal information, it's like handing over your wallet to a stranger on the street," Cole said. "You run the same risk when you submit information on a Web site that does not reveal its physical location, doesn't provide a customer contact, and gives no indication that it will protect your privacy."
The BBB notes that there are hundreds of thousands of trustworthy merchants offering products and services through the Internet. To ensure a satisfactory online shopping experience, consumers are advised to:
- Keep personal information private. Never disclose your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, bank account number or other personal information; such information should not be relevant to a purchase transaction. Never give your password to anyone, including your Internet Service Provider.
- Learn how to recognize spam. Indicators that an e-mail is spam include senders whose names you don't recognize, typos and misspellings in the subject line, and prices that seem "too good to be true."
- Make certain the Web site is owned by a reliable business. If the vendor is unfamiliar, conduct Web searches to check its legitimacy and obtain a BBB report at www.bbb.org. Also, look for trust marks from trusted third-party organizations, like the Better Business Bureau, that indicate the business has met privacy protection and other safe e-commerce standards.
- Pay the safest way. It's best to use a credit card because you have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges. Before transmitting your card number, check to make sure the Internet connection you will be using is secure.
- Never enter your personal information in a pop-up screen. Legitimate companies don't ask for personal information via pop-up screens; that's a popular tactic of identity thieves. Install pop-up blocking software to avoid this scam.
- Keep your computer secure. Use spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall, and keep them up to date.
- Review your credit card and bank account statements promptly. Notify your financial institution immediately if you suspect someone is using your accounts without your permission.