The Internet has made it easier for con artists to contact individuals and try to get them to divulge important information–information that could allow the criminals to steal an identity. In identity theft, a criminal uses your personal information without your permission to commit a crime (such as fraud).
One of the primary methods criminals use to get individuals to divulge important information is through e-mail. A criminal can set up a computer so that it will send out hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages a day to try to trick recipients into disclosing valuable personal information. This process is called phishing, in which criminals are trying to get the recipients to click a link that takes them to a Web site that looks legitimate. Some examples include a faked bank or credit card company site where customers reveal passwords or account details. Or, criminals want recipients to reply to the e-mail, giving passwords or account details. These e-mail messages often look official, with logos, employee names, business addresses, and so on.
Here are some of the steps you should take to prevent your identity from being stolen by Internet criminals:
- The best defense against phishing e-mail is to ignore it. No reputable company will ask you to divulge information by e-mail.
- Treat any e-mail that appears to be trying to get you to disclose information with suspicion.
- If in doubt, contact the company directly by phone or letter. Be sure to type in the Web address (URL) of your bank’s Web site; never click a link or trust your Favorites. Always check to make sure you’ve typed the URL correctly.
The information in this tip originally appeared in the PC Protection 101 online class.