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Email scams getting more sophisticated

5/17/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

GREATER AKRON — Have you checked your email lately? Really checked it?

Chances are, you’ve been finding some emails from what look like legitimate sources, maybe even businesses and online retailers you use, that are actually the latest in fraud attempts.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) recently announced that Verizon customers have been reporting receiving fake emails that are almost identical to the real alerts they get to remind them of monthly payments. The BBB warns that this is a “phishing” scam, where fraudsters attempt to retrieve valuable information from your accounts and computer.

The Verizon bills that have been emailed are “notable for [their] painstaking replication” of the company’s emails, the BBB reports. The one tipoff that might raise eyebrows is the bill amount, which is usually very high compared to a typical bill.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) also reported recently that some of its customers have received bogus emails about a package delivery or online postage charges. According to USPS officials, the emails contain a link or attachment that, when opened, install a virus that can take personal information from your computer.

Cynthia Sich, director of the Summit County Office of Consumer Affairs, said her office is well aware of the fraudulent emails making their way through cyberspace.

“We received the Verizon emails on our email,” Sich said. “I knew right away it was a scam because we use AT&T.”

Sich said consumers should be cautious about any emails they receive from businesses and retailers that they aren’t currently doing business with or haven’t used recently. If an email is from a business you do use, such as your bank, Sich said to examine it carefully and refrain from clicking on any links.

“If you are in doubt, don’t respond to the email,” Sich said. “Contact the business directly.”

Another company that has issued an alert regarding fake emails is Amazon. Some who have ordered from the site in the past have received emails reporting that an order they placed has been cancelled. In most cases, the recipient is wondering, “What order?”

On Amazon’s website, the company states that anyone receiving an email like this with an eight-digit order number should delete the email.

Sich said if email users receive an email that is fraudulent, it can be reported to the “real” company or financial institution or one of several sites that look into Internet fraud.

“There are multiple locations; the Federal Trade Commission has sites,” she said. “We tell everyone to delete them, but if you’re getting a lot, you need to report it to someone.”

One of the online sites she recommends heading to is www.ic3.gov, which is the home of the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint project of the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center. The site allows consumers to report complaints about Internet fraud.

Sich reminds consumers that email isn’t the only communication avenue being used by scammers. Fraudulent messages also are being sent as text messages to cell phones.

One of the most common text message scams recently has been one in which the recipient is told he or she has won a Wal-Mart gift card. On its website, Wal-Mart officials state the text messages are not from the company.

Sich said even though scams are prevalent, email and the Internet are still useful tools for shopping and money management. To protect yourself from fraud, she suggests using more than one email address.

“Have an email account just for online purchases,” she said. “If you’re on Facebook and you do tons of ‘liking,’ you may want to have another email account for that. You can have one just for banking and financial records, not given out to anyone.”

Sich also recommends having one credit card that is used only for online transactions.

In addition, the BBB recommends:

• Don’t open any attachments in suspicious emails and don’t click on any links or give any personal information unless you are confident where it is going. If you have concerns, run your cursor over a link (but don’t click it) to determine if the actual link is the same as the one shown. 

• Delete any suspicious email from your inbox and from your trash or recycling folder.

• Don’t give your Social Security number, bank account number or any other personal information to unfamiliar people contacting you by phone or by mail.

• Be wary of misspellings, poor English or other signs that the people contacting you may not be legitimate.

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