There’s a kind of social engineering designed to part consumers from their hard-earned money.
It’s called phishing, and it’s become one of the most common scams. It was the fourth most common scam reported to the National Consumers League fraud center last year, and — when lumped in with all “imposter scams” — it ranked No. 8 in the top 10 frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission.
Phishing involves a number of ways that con artists gain people’s trust and thereby gain access to their personal and/or financial information. Once that’s done, it’s a short step to stealing someone’s identity, cleaning out their bank account or otherwise wreaking havoc on their financial lives.
The director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America says new phishing schemes are popping up every day.
“We want people to realize that it should be no different when someone approaches you online or by phone asking for that information,” Susan Grant said in a news release last week.
For whatever reason, some of us are more trusting of nameless, faceless people who hit us up by email or over the phone. Most of us would not think twice about refusing a request for personal information from someone who rang our doorbell; when that person makes an electronic approach, we might think twice.
That’s what the con artists want. They pretend to be someone they’re not: an employee of your bank, a government official or an officer of the company where you work. They call or email you with what sounds like a legitimate request for information; instead, it is a (sometimes) cleverly disguised way to get you to reveal your Social Security number, bank account number or other personal data that they can use.
The approach by telephone might be the easiest phishing attempt to ward off. You can simply say, “Sorry, I don’t do any business over the phone,” and hang up. It may be a little tougher when the come-on appears in your email.
It might say that you’ve left something off your income tax return: “Don’t delay your return — click here.” Or you may be asked for an account number “to pay the administrative fee on this prize you’ve won.” The variations are endless … and so is the phishing.
A common theme among phishing attempts: They are not what they seem to be. If you’re asked to click on a link, picture or anything from a source you don’t know, DON’T DO IT. You might be downloading malicious spyware onto your computer. You also could be redirected to another, unknown website where trouble awaits. A request to “join my social network” might really be a hook that someone is using to try to reel you in.
The Consumer Federation has a new video summarizing these and other helpful hints at www.consumerfed.org/fraud. If you think you have been a victim of identity theft, visit www.IDtheftINFO.org to find out what to do. There’s more information about scams and protecting your identity at the FTC website, www.consumer.ftc.gov.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.