RealTime IT News

How Not to Get 'Phished'

With phishing attacks skyrocketing, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a consumer alert detailing ways Web surfers can avoid being fleeced by online scammers.

The FTC, which has aggressively targeted phishing as a major problem for Internet users, warned that scammers are using sophisticated, high-tech tricks to deceive consumers into disclosing credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords and other sensitive information.

In the consumer alert, the FTC spelled out the common techniques used by phishers , which includes the use of e-mails and pop-up messages that purport to be a business or organization recipients may deal with, such as an ISP, bank, online payment service or a government agency.

Usually, the message will urge the consumer to "update" or "validate" his or her account information and will often threaten some dire consequence for a non-response.

"The purpose of the bogus site? To trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name," the FTC said.

According to the consumer protection agency, Internet surfers should adopt the following habits to avoid taking the phishing bait:

  • If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies do not collect this information via e-mail. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the e-mail using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address. At no time should you cut and paste the link included in the message.
  • Do not e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting sensitive information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a Web site that begins "https:" to ensure the site is secure. Be aware, though, that some phishers have forged security icons.
  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your credit card or bank 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.
  • Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Some phishing e-mails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from e-mails you receive, regardless of who sent them.