Monday, December 01, 2008

There is Something "Phishey" Going On

The stories seem to be all the same. The email begins with a sad tale of someone’s father or uncle or second cousin twice removed being persecuted in some third world country. The emailer is desperate to find a kind soul in the US who will help this poor family find a way to transfer their money out of the country. To add credibility to the missive the email is filled with grammatical errors and a copious amount of deferential uses of “sir, madam, kind person, concerned American, etc.” Of course, if you will help them out of their dire straights they will split the booty with you. All you need do is send them your bank account information and they will take care of all the rest of the details.

Even with a very good spam filter on my email accounts I get one or two of these a week. The fact that they are still circulating tells me that some people may still be falling for this scam. A scan of recent newspaper articles indicates that there is no dearth of rascals happy to relive you of your money on line.

I would hope that most of us would see right though the scam described above but there are many other more “creative” miscreants developing a new one each week.

Most recently there have been many “phishing” expeditions. Phishing is a type of on line scam that is designed to steal your valuable personal data, such as credit card numbers, banking passwords, account data, or other information. It usually takes the form of an email that looks like an official communication from your bank or other financial institution or even the IRS. Often it is replete with an official logo and other corporate identification graphics. The message usually relates that, “as part of our commitment to your security we are verifying your account information in order to prevent any unauthorized person from getting your information.” The email contains several questions such as your name, address, favorite color, city of birth, Social Security number and bank passwords.

Replying to this email can wipe out your bank account and strip you of your identity in a New York minute. It can’t be repeated enough that no business, bank or department of the Federal government will ever send you an email or call you on the phone asking for this information. If you receive one of these messages, the only thing you should do is delete the message and, if you wish, contact the bank or other institution from which it was allegedly sent. Don’t EVER hit reply!

If you reply to this email and, even more importantly, open an attachment you may be at an even bigger risk. Replying to the email tells the sender that they have reached a “live person.” They now have a good email address and will use it in the future to try new ways of relieving you of your cash. They are very persistent. Opening an attachment is even more dangerous as it can release a small program into your computer innards that can harvest this personal information and transmit it back to the perpetrators. Often they make opening the attachment very attractive by indicating that you have a “free gift” and details are in the attachment. For sure it is a “gift” but most likely not “free

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