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Internet Safety
(Phishing Emails & Spoofed Websites)

In today's world, technology makes our lives easier. Unfortunately, it may also make it easier for thieves to steal your personal information. In fact, one of the most popular ways for thieves to obtain your information is over the internet. In minutes, a thief can purchase millions of email addresses for less than $10 and send phony "urgent" messages (called phishing) that lead to a "spoofed" (fake) website. Once on their site, they can scare you into revealing private information. New scams are detected daily, which is why there is now a website dedicated to informing you of current phishing scams: www.antiphishing.org. It's a great resource and should be used anytime you question an email sent to you.

Other ways you can protect yourself from internet theft:

  1. Install current virus software to protect data on your computer.
  2. Install firewall software through your operating system.
  3. Read mail only from senders you know.
  4. Do not open attachments. (If it's from a friend, verify first.)
  5. Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.

Even with these precautions, it's smart to know some of the more common signs associated with actual phishing email messages and spoofed websites. Here's what to look for:

  1. Is the email addressed specifically to you or is it generic, i.e. Dear Microsoft Customer? If it's generic, chances are it's not legitimate.
  2. Does the message refer to an "urgent problem"? Phishing messages try to rattle you into immediately giving away personal information. Contact the source it claims to be coming from, i.e. your internet provider, financial institution, credit card company, etc., to verify the message before you give out any information.
  3. If there are links in the email, check the web address before you click on anything. The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or website address should appear at the bottom of your browser window when you roll over any links or submit buttons. If the URL looks long and suspicious, chances are the message goes to a spoofed/fake website.
  4. Beware of pop-ups, which often don't reveal the address line. Some phishing messages can link to a legitimate website, but then also open a spoofed pop-up window asking for information. Your best clue is that no legitimate company would ask for your personal information on a site that wasn't secure.
  5. If you do click on a link, look for an "S" after HTTP in the web address. The "S" indicates it's secure. (Be cautious however of fake URLs which could overlap the real one.) Look to see if there's a closed padlock symbol in the lower right corner of the browser window. Double click on the padlock to see a certificate, authenticating the website.

Basic Rules for receiving Phishing Emails:

  1. Do not follow the link.
  2. Do not reply.
  3. If you have an account with this company, contact it directly.
  4. Forward the message to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov.
  5. Consider installing a spam blocker, free from www.antiphishing.org. A spam blocker will block unsolicited or undesired bulk electronic messages being sent to you.

By knowing what to look for and how to protect yourself, you can still enjoy all the benefits of shopping and handling your finances online without the worry of "hackers" and identity theft.

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