Recently, consumers across the country have fallen for phony e-mails they thought were from legitimate companies. The e-mails appear to be genuine, with a few corporate logos and links, which supposedly take you to a company's legitimate web site. But instead, the link takes you to a "look-alike" site and into the hands of identity thieves.
In most cases recipients are lured to the phony sites by being told they need to "update" or "verify" their billing information, credit card number, bank account information, password and other sensitive information.
The crime is often referred to as "phishing," a high-tech scam that uses spam to deceive consumers into disclosing their personal information. Phishing is considered a two-time scam. First it steals a company's identity and then uses it to victimize consumers by stealing their credit identities.
To prevent falling for such a scam, the Better Business Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission, offer these tips to consumers:
- If you get an e-mail that warns you, with little to no notice, that an account of yours will be shut down unless you reconfirm your billing information, do not reply or click on the link in the e-mail. Instead, contact the company referenced in the e-mail using a telephone number or web site address you know to be genuine (because it appears on a billing statement, for instance).
- Avoid e-mailing personal and financial information. If you have determined the web site to be legitimate and do decide to submit financial information, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar. It signals that your information is secure during transmission.
- Review your credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
- If you believe you have been scammed, report the suspicious activity to the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).