With the boom of internet commerce websites, there inevitably came those who exploited peopleï naivety and lack of knowledge about the new marketplace for their own monetary gain. These online scams fall under the general crime known as identity theft, which also includes theft resulting from dumpster diving and stolen mail.
Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about identify theft – from credit card companies, the e-commerce sites themselves, and others. One scam which still takes advantage of a surprising amount of internet users, though, is the act of phishing
What is phishing, and how does it work?
Phishing is defined as a scam wherein the criminal sends out mass e-mails to as many people as they can get e-mail addresses for, and fashions their e-mail to look identical to e-mails sent by whatever company they are impersonating. The online auction site eBay is a common target for phishing scams, though online financial institutions and other e-commerce sites are just as prone to these cons.
The e-mail that looks like it is sent by a legitimate company will inform the recipient that in order to keep their account on the site from being closed, they need to log-in and update their personal information, or sometimes make a purchase. A link will be provided which will often look like it is leading to a page on the real website, but the user is instead re-routed to a phony website that is made to seem like the genuine article.
If the victim of the scam is foolish or naï’ve enough to enter any information on the website, especially credit card information, social security numbers, or addresses and phone numbers, these are instantly sent to the scammer that runs the fake website. Once they have this information they can use it to make online purchases using your credit card or sign up for credit cards in your name or any number of other fraudulent activities which can leave you miserable and broke and your credit ruined.
So what can be done about this phishing epidemic?
The US government is trying to pass laws that specifically target the purveyors of phishing scams, but there is absolutely no guarantee that it will do any good, or reduce the amount of phishing that is going on at all. The best method of prevention is, and probably always will be knowledge. Be aware of a company reputation and read their user agreements, privacy policies, and other documents before signing up on their website.
And remember that these legitimate companies will never ever send out an e-mail asking for information you’ve already given them, and especially not information they never even asked for. Furthermore, don’t sign up for any credit cards you are pre-approved for according to an e-mail you find in your inbox it just not worth the risk.
And if you have a friend or loved one who has just recently started using the internet, and they are thinking about exploring the world of e-commerce, make sure you tell them about the danger of phishing scams and what to watch out for.