June 22, 2012
Their names may sound funny but their financial consequences are not: "Phishing," "smishing," "vishing" and "pharming" are just a few of the ways criminals gain access to personal information via your computer or smartphone. If you're not careful, identity thieves can use harvested information to open fraudulent bank or credit card accounts, take out loans, rent apartments or even charge medical procedures to your insurance plan.
Unfortunately, every time the authorities plug one hole, crafty criminals figure out new ways to trick unsuspecting victims. Here are some identity theft scams to watch out for:
Phishing: This is where you receive an email, purportedly from a trusted source like a government agency, bank or retailer that asks you to supply or confirm account information, log-in IDs or passwords. These imposters are "fishing" for your personal information. Legitimate organizations never ask you to verify sensitive information through a non-secure means like email.
Smishing (for "Short Message Service"): Like phishing, only it uses text messages sent to your cellphone. Even if you don't share any information, just by responding you're verifying that your phone number is valid, which means it probably will be sold to others who will try to trick you into their own scams.
Vishing (voice phishing): Where live or automated callers direct you to call your bank or credit card issuer under the pretext of clearing up a problem (like theft or overdrawn accounts). You'll be asked to share personal or account information. Keep a list of toll-free service numbers for all companies you use so you can call them directly without fearing you've been given bogus information. I also program these numbers – but not account numbers – into my cell phone in case I'm traveling.
Pharming. Where hackers redirect you from a legitimate website to an impostor site where your personal information is harvested ("farmed"). Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter increasingly are being targeted, so always be wary of opening any links – even from trusted friends – because their account may have been hacked.
A few tips for spotting risky emails and texts:
For more tips protecting personal and account information and preventing online fraud, visit:
And finally, don't forget good-old-fashioned pickpocketing, mail theft and dumpster diving as ways people may try to steal your personal information.
Recent Practical Money Matters