Every day your email inbox contains dangerous email scams. But, as the scams – often consisting of “phishing” emails designed by identity thieves to steal your personal information – become more sophisticated, how can you tell a dangerous email from a legitimate one? identitytheft.info worked with Identity Theft Expert Bob Sullivan of MSNBC to create this video warning consumers about the dangers of “phishing” emails.
Just as we secure our homes from burglars seeking to physically break-in and steal our most valuable possessions, we must be equally vigilant in the 21st Century at protecting the valuable information stored on our computers from cybercriminals who constantly attempt to break-in by means of the Internet. And, just as we can deter most burglars from raiding our homes by making it more impenetrable than our neighbors, we can do the same when it comes to erecting defenses against identity thieves and other cybercriminals.
The first line of defense in Internet security is cybercrime awareness. By being aware of the various methods cybercriminals use to penetrate your computer and steal your personal information, you will increase the odds that you wont be a victim of identity theft or other forms of cybercrime.
One of the most common methods identity thieves and cybercriminals use to steal personal information is the use of phishing.
Phishing is a form of social engineering that uses email or instant messages that appear to be from a government agency, financial institution, Internet Service Provider (ISP), Internet-based company or any agency or business you trust and/or do business with. The intent of the phishing communication is to deceive you into divulging personal information such as web site usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, financial account numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and any other form of personal or account information that an identity thief or cybercriminal can use to carry out criminal activity.
A phishing email will either entice you with the promise of money or appeal to your desire to protect your personal information by claiming that your account has been compromised. You will be advised to click on a link in the email in order to receive money or to provide information in order to secure or re-activate your account. The financial enticement or the advice to follow a link and provide additional information in order to secure or re-activate your account is the bait the cybercriminal dangles before you – hence the term phishing. By taking the bait and clicking on the link in a phishing email, you are exposed to at least two risks.
The first risk involved in clicking on any link in a phishing email is that you will be re-directed to a web site that will look similar or identical to the web site the cybercriminal is impersonating. Once at the site, you will be directed to provide personal information that will allow the identity thief or cybercriminal to steal that personal information and use it for financial fraud or other crimes.
The second risk involved in clicking on any link in a phishing email is that you will be activating the execution and installation of a virus that will be surreptitiously installed on your computer. The virus may steal the personal information stored on your computer by transmitting the personal information to the identity thief or cybercriminal who sent you the phishing email. The virus may also take over your computer and turn it into part of a botnet (malicious software robot network) designed to transmit other virus laden emails to thousands of other computers around the world.
The best way to avoid becoming an identity theft victim as the result of falling for a phishing email is to follow two rules. First, never trust an email you didnt request that directs you to provide information in order to obtain a benefit or to secure or re-activate an account. Second, if you do open an email that requests personal or financial information from you, never left-click on a link in the email.
No reputable business or agency will send you an unsolicited email requesting personal or financial information from you. If you believe the email might be legitimate, contact the sending business or agency either by using a web address you’ve previously bookmarked, one that you obtain independently from the email or by calling a phone number using a listing obtained independently of the email.
Remember: The greatest danger associated with a phishing email is from left-clicking on any links within the email. So think before you click. Better yet dont click at all.
To report a phishing email and help in the fight against identity theft and cyber crime click here.
For more information about phishing emails – and to see several examples of phishing emails commonly placed in circulation – please watch the video above produced by identitytheft.info in cooperation with consumer reporter Bob Sullivan of MSNBC.
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