Cyber thieves getting more sophisticated

Posted May 16, 2010, at 7:21 p.m.

More often than we’d like, pieces of e-mail arrive seeking personal and financial information. Luckily most consumers know and heed the warnings about divulging such data, a practice that can lead to identity theft.

Still, the purveyors of these schemes troll the Web, casting a wide net in their digital quest to dip into our finances. Just last Thursday came the troubling news that “we have detected a slight error in your PayPal online account.”

We have no such account but are willing to play along — to a point. The request to “fill out the attached form” is always a red flag. So is the warning that failure to hand over sensitive personal and financial information will mean the canceling of my nonexistent account.

Bottom line: This is phishing, an attempt to gain the recipient’s trust, as well as bank account, credit card or other useful numbers. The scam is tipped off by that most personal of greetings, “Dear PayPal customer.”

There are also the expected lapses in grammar. Our e-mail message closed with the warning that ignoring their attempted theft will “leave us no choice but to temporary [sic] suspend your account.”

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost — for want of an adverb, the mail is trashed.

If all of this sounds like ground we’ve covered previously in this column, it is. The troubling news is the cyber thieves’ increasing sophistication; They’re making their e-mails look and sound more professional. They’re using more deceptive cyber tricks to make you think they’re legitimate.

One common misdirect may show up in a link the thieves ask you to click. It looks as though it will take you to PayPal’s website, but not so. If you were to fill in all the requested data, clicking the link would send it to the thieves’ den.

Right-clicking on the message before reading it reveals the coding and shows that the e-mail came from “ppal,” not PayPal. Our e-mail message (which has been around the world over the last several months) urges the reader to consult the “help” section of the real PayPal website. Nice touch.

PayPal is a favorite shield the thieves use because of its popularity and success.

PayPal publishes information warning customers about such phishing schemes.

For advice on this and other cyber scams, you may want to visit www.hoax-slayer.com. It contains tips on dealing with suspicious e-mail and many types of Internet hoaxes.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to http://necontact.wordpress.com.

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