Banks, Phishing Schemes and Identity Theft
When a famous bank robber was asked why he robbed banks, he said, logically enough “because that’s where the money is”. While times have changed, criminals have not, and today identity thieves and other criminals are targeting customers of online and brick and mortar banks because those banks are still where the money is.
It is important, therefore, for customers of large and small bank alike, as well as holders of accounts in credit unions and savings and loans, to take the steps necessary to protect themselves against this growing threat.
There has always been bank fraud, of course, but the level of sophistication has grown in recent years, partly due to the growing power of technology and partly due to the fact that organized gangs of criminals have been drawn to the vast sums of money that can be made through identity theft.
What this means to the ordinary account holder is that they must exercise additional caution in order to keep themselves and their money protected against this threat. It is important, for instance, to use extreme caution any time anyone asks for personal information, such as your bank account number, Social Security number or password. Such information should never be requested, or provided, through email, and it should never be provided unless you yourself have initiated the communication.
Many fraud artists have been using email to solicit this kind of personal information, or to fool account holders into providing personal information they may not have otherwise. One common scheme is for the scam artist to send out an email that appears to come from the bank or other financial institution. In many cases the subject line of the email warns that the account will be terminated unless the account holder verifies certain information.
The fraud takes place when the victim clicks on a link within the email, and is taken to what appears to be the website of the bank or other financial institution but is in fact a site run by the scammers. The sophistication of these scam sites has grown enormously, and it can be impossible to determine that the site is a fake.
One important step consumers can take to protect themselves against these email schemes, also known as phishing, is to never click on the link in such an email, but to instead go straight to the website of the bank, credit union or other financial institution. It pays to use common sense as well, and if you are unsure of the legitimacy of an email, always contact the bank by phone to verify it before providing any type of personal information.
A little bit of common sense can go a long way, so it is important to trust your intuition when dealing with emails that appear to be from a legitimate source. For instance, the bank already has your Social Security number, and uses it as a key to finding your transactions. Therefore, that bank would not need to verify such personal information. The rule of thumb is to immediately be suspicious of emails which request personal information, and to verify such communications before parting with any information that could be used by identity thieves.