Recently, many Americans have received a series of fraudulent e-mails which direct recipients to websites where they are asked to verify sensitive personal information. The e-mails claim that the individual’s personal information is necessary to assist in the fight against terrorism or for some other purpose supposedly required by law. These e-mails are purportedly sent from several government agencies or include content related to government agencies including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation and others. The websites to which the email recipients are directed are often very similar to, if not actual clones of official government sites.
The fraudulent e-mails are part of a scam known as “phishing.” Phishing is the fraudulent scheme of sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be a legitimate company. The email attempts to con the user into surrendering private information that could later be used for identity theft. The e-mail directs the user to visit a web-site where they are asked to update personal information, such as name, account and credit card numbers, passwords, social security numbers and other information. The Web site, however, is bogus and set up only to steal the user’s information.
As part of the Treasury Department’s efforts to fight identity theft, we want to assure Americans that federal financial agencies do not communicate with consumers by e-mail requesting important personal information such as your name, account numbers, date of birth, social security number.
Consumers can protect themselves from this latest identity theft scam by following these useful tips, which were developed by the Federal Trade Commission:
• If you get an email that warns you, with little or no notice, that an account of yours will be shut down unless you reconfirm your billing information, do not reply or click on the link in the email. Instead, contact the company cited in the email using a telephone number or Web site address you know to be genuine.
• Avoid emailing personal and financial information. Before submitting financial information through a Web site, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar. It signals that your information is secure during transmission.
• Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
• Report suspicious activity to the FTC. Send the actual spam to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site ( www.ftc.gov/idtheft) to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from identity theft.
The Treasury and federal financial regulators are working hard to combat identity theft including the use of new tools in legislation recently signed by President Bush. But all consumers must take reasonable precautions in the use of their personal financial information in order to help prevent themselves from becoming victims of identity thieves.