Spotting Phishing Scams - Retirement Net by Nancy Muir

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Spotting Phishing Scams

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Online fraud is the new frontier in crime. Here's how to avoid it.

Posted May 19, 2010

Phishing scams delivered to your email inbox generally have one of two goals: to get your money by having you give away a bank or credit card number, or to have you go to a fraudulent website where malware is downloaded to your computer, potentially opening up a backdoor criminals can enter to steal information stored there.

It’s not hard to spot phishing scams once you know the signs. Here are some things to look for:

• The email purports to be from a financial instititution, perhaps even one you do business with, and asks you to provide your account number and password. Your bank or broker will never ask you for your password and you should never provide it.

• The message has a sense of urgency: act now or your account will be closed in 4 hours; this is a limited time offer, and the like. When you act in haste, you take less time to think things through and criminals know this.

• There are several directions in the email to click on links. Doing so will take you to a website which downloads malware (like viruses or spyware) to your computer. Never click on links in emails. Instead, type the address of your financial institution in your address bar and go to the site directly. Another tip: right-click on any link and look at the properties. If a supposed link to First National Bank says the address in the properties is not only is it not your bank but it’s not even in your country.

• Spelling and grammatical errors are pretty rare in authenticate communications from your bank. Consider them red flags in an email purporting to be from a legitimate financial institution.

• Some scammers will use the old chestnut of telling you the sender is an exiled political refugee who has deposited two million dollars of his country’s money in a Swiss bank account. If you will help him get it (by providing your bank account number to transfer the funds to) it will help the poor people of his country and he’ll give you a $100,000 gift for your help. A variation is an email that seems to come from somebody you know who says he or she is travelling and got robbed and needs you to wire money. You wouldn’t fall for this in real life, so don’t fall for it online, even if the email seems to come from your friend’s email account. Pick up the phone and call the person and you’ll probably find that he or she is safely sitting at home watching TV.

The bottom line is you should read communications online carefully, avoid clicking links, never provide account and password information, and take emotional pleas with a large grain of salt.

Nancy Muir is the author of more than sixty books on technology topics. She was the original author of a series on technology for seniors including the titles Using the Internet Safely For Seniors For Dummies, Laptops For Seniors For Dummies, iPad For Seniors For Dummies, and Computers For Seniors For Dummies from Wiley Publishing. Nancy has taught technical writing and Internet safety at several universities, is the author of a highly regarded introduction to computers textbook used in community colleges, and has been a consultant to technology companies including Microsoft and Hewlett Packard. Her website,, helps people over 50 take advantage of all that computer technology has to offer.


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