No more phishing

During these last lazy days of summer, a fishing trip may seem like a great idea as a favorite pastime to many.

But beware of other types of ‘phishermen’ on ‘phishing expeditions’.

Phishing is a favorite process for scammers to try to get consumers to divulge personally identifiable information such as account numbers, social security numbers or addresses.

Once a scammer has your personal information, they can wreak havoc on your personal financial management.

Methods familiar to most include elaborate imitation websites combined with emails and some sort of message stating that your account information needs to be re-verified due to some sort of special offer or need to update the database of the institution account.

With the recent credit crunch and the proliferation of special loan programs, homeowners have been favorite targets. Case in point: Email solicitations from a legitimate-sounding credit union advertising low rates for mortgage refinancing. Or emails offering loan modification programs or ways to stop foreclosure.

Other techniques are taking advantage of the trend towards the use of more social networking sites. With the advent of resources like Linked In, Twitter or Facebook, some identity thieves will find enough personal information (ie employment, residence, education) to help them become you.

Remember that a government agency or financial institution will never ask you to provide your personally identifiable information in an unsolicited email. One way to verify the authenticity of any such email is to scroll through the visible links in the email to see the website suffix. Anything other than ‘.com’, ‘.gov’, or ‘.org’ could be indicating a computer server outside of the US and a potential source of scam. Also consider scrolling to the bottom of the email subject line. Sometimes there are hidden links that can also provide an indication of the foreign origin of the email.

If in doubt, call the agency or business directly, but use a phone number provided on one of your statements, not in the email. You can also check the legitimacy of the source by checking with the Federal Trade Commission ( or trade organizations.

For example, a visit to the National Association of Credit Unions ( determined that the credit union’s refinance offer was bogus. Banks, financial services companies, and insurers have regulators and industry trade groups that can verify the legitimate existence of an organization.

Not all phishing expeditions are high-tech. Some are as low-tech as rummaging through trash cans and dumpsters looking for mail showing account numbers. Others include phone calls with the same “account info update” message as listed in the email version above.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Be careful not to leave information lying around. When you’re online, clear your cookies often and avoid leaving your passwords or pre-loaded credit card information on financial websites you visit. Make sure your computer is protected with up-to-date versions of anti-spyware, anti-malware, and pop-up blockers. Check your credit report to make sure it’s accurate and no new unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name. Get a free copy of your credit report at

Offline, you can protect yourself by shredding old financial records as well as credit card offers, as these are prime sources for junk divers.

Don’t throw away old computers, hard drives, or cell phones. There is too much information about them that can be retrieved by a tech-savvy identity thief. Hard drives need to be shredded or use a baseball bat. You will protect yourself and you will be able to vent a little to get even for all the frustration that technology may have caused you.

With a little effort, you can protect yourself and not become bait for an unwanted phisherman.

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