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I don't download music or games. Am I really at risk?

Yes—unfortunately. Identity Theft and Fraud occur to all kinds of consumers. Thieves have been known to rummage through trash to find personal information that they can use to steal identity. Often, the perpetrator is known to the victim—as a roommate, neighbor, friend, or even family member. Some thieves search through mailboxes to find bills, checks, or personal information. They may even phone you, posing as charities, government agencies or bank employees to get account numbers or other personal data.

What is "phishing" or "pharming"?

It is the attempt by thieves to trick a consumer into giving out confidential information. They disguise emails or webpages to look like legitimate businesses or government agencies to instill confidence in the viewer, then use the information gathered to commit fraud or steal identities.

I have virus protection software, so why should I worry?

Virus protection software is valuable to protect you from emails infected with programs that may cause damage to your computer, but they will do little to protect you from many common phishing schemes. Most are built upon "social engineering" schemes; they gain your trust by giving the appearance of legitimacy, and succeed when you submit your personal information to them thinking that you are doing the right thing. There may be no virus involved—just a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of their methods, and to verify the legitimacy of the email or webpage.

I know just enough about computers to do a few things. Do I have any hope of protecting myself?

Yes! Just being aware will help. Before you give away personal information, ask yourself some questions:

  • Is the email concerning a transaction you are trying to complete?
  • Were you expecting an email?
  • Does the offer seem "too good to be true?"
  • Does something strange stand out—spelling errors or poor grammar?
  • Are the questions or requests out of the ordinary?
  • Do you know how they will use the information you submit?
  • Is the request from a business you have a relationship with?
  • Does the email seem pushy or demanding—that if you take too long, they will close your account?

These should be red flags, and you should be cautious before proceeding. Phone the company or bank using a number you know to be correct. A legitimate business will not mind answering questions to assure you before using your credit and good name.

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