WARNING: online criminals are trying to steal your personal information!
Here’s the good news – you have the power to stop them! There’s a common type of internet threat called “phishing.” It’s pronounced “fishing,” and that’s exactly what these thieves are doing: “fishing” for your personal financial information. What they want are account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers, and other confidential information that they can use to loot your checking account or run up bills on your credit cards.
In the worst case, you could find yourself a victim of identity theft. With the sensitive information obtained from a successful phishing scam, these thieves can take out loans or obtain credit cards and even driver’s
licenses in your name. They can do damage to your financial history and personal reputation that can take years to unravel. But if you understand how phishing works and how to protect yourself, you can help stop this crime.
How Phishing Works
In a typical case, you’ll receive an email that appears to come from a reputable company that you recognize and do business with, such as your financial institution. In some cases, the email may appear to come from a government agency, including one of the federal financial institution regulatory agencies.
The email will probably warn you of a serious problem that requires your immediate attention. It may use phrases, such as “Immediate attention required,” or “Please contact us immediately about your account.” The email will then encourage you to click on a button to go to the institution’s website.
In a phishing scam, you could be redirected to a phony website that may look exactly like the real thing. Sometimes, in fact, it may be the company’s actual website. In those cases, a popup window will quickly appear for the purpose of harvesting your financial information. In either case, you may be asked to update your account information or to provide information for verification purposes: your Social Security number, your account number, your password, or the information you use to verify your identity when speaking to a real financial institution, such as your mother’s maiden name or your place of birth.
If you provide the requested information, you may find yourself the victim of identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself
- Never provide your personal information in response to an unsolicited request, whether it is over the phone or over the internet. Emails and webpages created by phishers may look exactly like the real thing. They may even have the padlock icon that is used to denote a “secure” site. If you did not initiate the communication, you should not provide any information.
- If you believe the contact may be legitimate, contact the financial institution yourself. You can find phone numbers and websites on the monthly statements you receive from your financial institution, or you can contact us directly. The key is that you should be the one to initiate the contact, using contact information that you have verified yourself.
- Never provide your password over the phone or in response to an unsolicited online request. A financial institution would never ask you to verify your account information online. Thieves armed with this information and your account number can help themselves to your savings.
- Review account statements regularly to ensure all charges are correct. If your account statement is late in arriving, call your financial institution to find out why. If your financial institution offers electronic account access, periodically review activity online to catch suspicious activity.
How to Fight Identity Theft
- Never provide personal financial information, including your Social Security number, account numbers or passwords, over the phone or the internet if you did not initiate the contact.
- Never click on the link provided in an email you believe is fraudulent. It may contain a malware that can harm your computer or steal your information.
- Do not be intimidated by an email or caller who suggests dire consequences if you do not immediately provide or verify financial information.
- If you believe the contact is legitimate, go to the company’s webite by typing in the site address directly or using a page you have previously bookmarked, instead of a link provided in the email.
- If you fall victim to an attack, act immediately to protect yourself. Alert your financial institution. Place fraud alerts or freezes on your credit files. Monitor your credit files and account statements closely.
- Report suspicious emails or calls to the Federal Trade Commission online via IdentityTheft.gov, or by calling (877) ID-THEFT.
If You Fall Victim
Contact your financial institution immediately and alert them to the situation. If you have disclosed sensitive information in a phishing attack, you should also contact one of the three major credit bureaus and discuss whether you need to place a fraud alert or freeze on your file, which will help prevent thieves from opening a new account in your name. Here is the contact information for each bureau’s fraud division: