October 16, 2008

Phishers Take Advantage of Financial Meltdown


The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers to be cautious of e-mails, phone calls or letters claiming to be from their financial institutions and seeking personal information.

Phishers, or people who want to steal your identity via the Internet, see the current chaos in the economy as a good opportunity.

"While e-mails phishing for sensitive data are nothing new, scammers are taking advantage of upheavals in the financial marketplace to confuse consumers in parting with valuable personal information," the FTC said in a recent warning.

Specifically, the FTC is advising consumers to beware of e-mails and phone calls with voice recordings claiming that there has been a merger of either their bank or mortgage company and requesting account numbers and passwords.

This doesn't surprise David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of OpenDNS.com, an online company that boasts having the largest anti-phishing database, PhishTank.

"We see this all the time. Unfortunately, phishers are not dumb people; they capitalize on people's fears," Ulevitch said.

Nat Wood, assistant director at the FTC's bureau for Consumer Protection, agreed.

"The issue of phishing is a big problem," he said, "A consumer should never give information through e-mails or through e-mails that lead them to other websites ... The banks have the passwords and for the most part, access to accounts. They would never request that information, even through e-mail."

Wood recommends consumers think twice about e-mails. "That is not how (banks) communicate," he said.

Banks aren't the only way scammers are targeting consumers. Any e-mail that requests credit card numbers or social security numbers should be considered skeptically.

The FTC suggests examining statements from financial institutions for strange charges, and using customer-service telephone numbers to ask questions and verify if the e-mails are legitimate.

Ulevitch says government should do more to combat phishing

"Awareness is one piece, which (the FTC) should be commended for, but the goal is to provide (consumers) with a high level of confidence," he said.

For more information or to report phishing, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)