St. Louis, Mo., April 26, 2012 – Internet thieves are finding more imaginative and sophisticated ways to trick consumers into giving up banking and other personal information, using everything from fake airline reservation notices to phony FBI emails. The Consumer Fraud Task Force urges extreme caution before opening any unfamiliar email correspondence or responding to suspicious phone calls or postal mailings.
“Phishing scams are a national epidemic, victimizing hundreds of thousands of consumers each year,” the Task Force said. “These shadowy bandits – often masquerading as well-known businesses or government agencies – are stealing tens of millions of dollars from unsuspecting Americans. Consumers can no longer afford to trust that people are who they claim to be.”
In the past few months, criminals have used a variety of techniques to get consumers to turn over sensitive information, the Task Force said. Among the ruses:
- A scam that targeted fiancées of service members to “register” with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in order to receive benefits in the event of the service member’s death. Thieves used the ploy to extract money and personal information from victims.
- A scam using a phony email itinerary for US Airways to phish for personal information.
- Notification to consumers that they have been awarded a free Walmart gift card and then directing them to a site that asks them for personal information.
- A variety of scams allegedly from the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service or other governmental or non-governmental organizations seeking confidential information or using links that could damage consumers’ computer systems through malware or other programs.
- Scams using the names of popular online sites like Facebook, eBay, Craigslist, Google and a variety of gaming sites, again designed to obtain sensitive data from consumers.
Earlier this year, the FBI reported that cyber crooks were using spam emails – purportedly from such organizations as the Federal Reserve Bank or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – to infect computers with malware and gain access to bank accounts. The malware, called “Gameover,” was designed to steal usernames and passwords and overcome user authentication methods used by financial institutions. Malware - short for malicious software - can include computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware and other malicious programs.
In many cases, thieves use consumers’ stolen financial information to ring up charges on their credit cards or drain their bank accounts. Last month, police in Great Britain reported that a woman was bilked out of her life savings of $1.6 million by cyber thieves using a phishing scam.
The Task Force offers the following suggestions to avoid phishing scams:
- Don’t trust unsolicited emails, even if they appear to be from familiar businesses or agencies. If you’re concerned about the validity of an email, contact the business or agency directly by phone or through its website to ask about it.
- 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 persons contacting you by phone or by mail.
- Be wary of misspellings, poor English or other signs that the person or persons contacting you may not be legitimate.
The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud. Previous Task Force releases have focused on payday loans, tax scams, timeshare resellers, home remodelers, work-at-home scams, sweepstakes offers, online auctions, credit repair scams, debt management advice, foreclosure scams, extended auto service contracts, sweetheart scams and fire and police organizations.
To obtain information, or to report a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:
Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois – (314) 645-3300; www.bbb.org.
Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); www.ftc.gov.
Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618; www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.
Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222; www.ago.mo.gov.
U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200; www.usdoj.gov/usao/moe.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; www.secretservice.gov.
Other Task Force members are:
- U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Illinois
- Missouri Secretary of State, Securities Division
- Illinois State Treasurer’s Office
- Better Business Bureau in Greater Kansas City
- Better Business Bureau in Southwest Missouri
- Legal Services of Eastern Missouri
- Legal Services of Southern Missouri
- Legal Services of Western Missouri
- Mid-Missouri Legal Services
- Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation
Contacts: Tracy Hardgrove, BBB Vice President-Administration & Operations, 314-584-6802, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), email@example.com