Internet-related fraud is on the rise

October 07, 2005|By LYNN F. LITTLE

Perhaps you've been bombarded with e-mail messages from supposedly legitimate sources such as banks, eBay, PayPal and even the National Credit Union Association. The gist of these messages is that you need to update your accounts by providing certain information. The critical information requested includes your Social Security number and account numbers.

The messages look legitimate, but they are not. It's another way to steal your financial information.

When an e-mail arrives that appears to be sent by a company that you work with, it's pretty hard to ignore - and many of us don't. The messages say things like, "We suggest you update your information to maintain your account."

Another ruse is the message that says unusual account activity leads them to believe there is fraud related to your account, and asks you to return information about your account.

Do not assume that this will never happen to you. More than 9 million people have dealt with identity fraud problems. In worst-case situations, victims spent more than 600 hours and $1,400 to clear their credit records. Most identity fraud still occurs away from the computer, but recent statistics from the Federal Trade Commission indicate that 53 percent of all consumer-fraud complaints were Internet related.


So what can you do?

Ignore all e-mails that request personal information from you. Known as "phishing," these e-mails appear to be from a trusted source, but legitimate companies will not ask for this information.

Never click on an attached file or a link in the e-mail, and never respond. Delete or add the e-mail to your blocked senders list.

Install firewall and antivirus security programs on your computer system and keep them updated.

Establish a separate folder in your e-mail system for legitimate e-mail, and do not open e-mail from unknown sources.

Request a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, but stagger your request so you will receive a report every four months. Using this timeframe, you should be able to catch fraudulent accounts that are opened in your name as well as determine if inaccurate information exists about your credit history. Visit the Web at for more information.

Check your bank account and credit card accounts online at least once per week. Don't wait until you receive your monthly statements. If there is a problem, you will be able to catch it immediately.

You might want to establish a separate online account for your kids. The Wall Street Journal indicates that a number of the music and video file-sharing programs that kids are likely to use are vulnerable to adware and spyware programs that might infest your computer.

Telling fake e-mails from legitimate ones requires a lot of diligence on your part. You should consider any site requesting personal financial information as suspicious until proven otherwise.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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