Last week, we talked about a type of consumer fraud known as identity theft. We discovered how it can happen and what signs to be aware of. This week, we are going to focus on a second type of consumer fraud known as phishing.
Phishing is a practice used by scam artists to coerce a party into giving out personal information that could then be used for fraudulent purposes. Most phishing is done via the internet by online hackers. An individual looking to commit fraud may email or send an instant message to a party alleging that there is a problem with an account that requires confirmation of personal information to access. Some parties even receive messages stating that they have unclaimed money or a refund waiting. Phishers may ask for a name, date of birth, address, Social Security number, password or even account numbers.
These emails and messages can appear to be legitimate, as scam artists are often masters at replicating business graphics and design. Many offer a link to click on which will take the consumer to a replicated company website, where a pop-up will appear requiring you to enter your personal information. This is where a scammer can retrieve the information you enter.
You should never give out your personal information online. If you are alerted by any online method claiming that there is a problem with an account or that money is waiting to be claimed, you should immediately cut off all communication and contact the company directly. They will likely be able to tell you immediately whether the information did, in fact, come from them. The U.S. Department of Treasury provides great information about phishing and what you can do about it.
If you have been a victim of phishing, contact a consumer fraud attorney to guide you through the process of protecting your assets and retrieving security.