"Pfishing", sometimes spelled "Phishing", is a word that's used to describe a method of identity theft where con men use fake e-mail that looks like it comes from legitimate sources. This e-mail is designed to hoodwink you into giving out personal and financial information. Once the scammers receive your information they use it to either clone your identity or to empty out your bank accounts and run up your charge cards. Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming the next victim.
1. Never respond to an e-mail that looks like it came from your bank or any of your credit card issuers no matter how official it appears. Phishing scam e-mails will tell you that there is some problem with your account and that you have to click on an embedded link to correct that problem. They may threaten to close your account, or report you to the credit bureau, if you do not respond. DON'T DO IT. Don't call the telephone number that appears in the email either. Get out one of your old bank or credit card statements and call the number that appears there. Explain what the email says and follow the directions that you receive from the actual employee. Chances are they'll tell you its a scam.
2. Never give your bank account information, credit card numbers, Social Security number, passwords, personal identification numbers (PIN), or Date of Birth to anyone who asks you for that information by email. No legitimate company will expect you to reveal sensitive information via email. Also, no company that issues you a PIN will ever ask you to reveal that PIN to any of their employees.
3. Never respond to any offer to buy anything by clicking on the link in the e-mail. Even if the e-mail looks like it comes from your favorite department store it might be a scam. To avoid being hooked by Pfishing, type in the URL to the department store by yourself. Go to Google.com to look it up if you don't already know it.
4. Forward copies of any Pfishing email to the actual company or bank that is being imitated by the scammers. You can usually send any email to postmaster@ and then the bank or company name.
5. If a Pfishing e-mail seems particularly threatening or worrisome to you, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ifccfbi.gov), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
6. If it's too late and you already provided any of your personal information, account numbers, or PINs then you should immediately contact your banks and credit card companies to make arrangements with them to protect your financial interests. These companies and institutions are familiar with these scams and they know what needs to be done.
7. If you receive evidence of identity theft, such as unauthorized charges on your credit card bills, or unexplained transactions in your bank account, contact the police and file a report. Be sure to get a copy of the report for your own records and to send to the companies that are involved in the transactions. You also need to contact all three major credit bureaus (Equifax at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 800-680-7289) and tell them that you need a fraud alert placed on your credit file.
8. You can get information on ID theft and Pfishing at the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov or calling toll-free 877-382-4357.
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