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Modern-day grifters use Internet scams
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Internet scams are becoming more sophisticated and harder to recognize, even for the experienced Web surfers.
Before the Internet, grifters were criminals who moved from town to town, seeking easy targets for money scams. Today, they find their victims using mass e-mails designed to trick people into sending money or disclosing financial information. The technique is call phishing.
Grenell Rogers, family resource management area agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said anyone can be a victim.
“People who would never fall for the average scheme can become victims easily. When people receive e-mails that look real and appear to be from companies they trust and do business with already, they lower their guard,” Rogers said.
“Most people who like to fish know to use different bait for different types and sizes of fish. Internet fishers have similar techniques. Some may try to entice people to send money for so-called prizes. Others may design elaborate Web sites that mimic actual companies,” Rogers said. “Through these e-mails, they try to convince people to send personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, mother's maiden names and birthdays.”
Bobbie Shaffett, Extension family resource management specialist, warned consumers not to be hooked by phishing scams.
“Beware of e-mails or telephone calls that ask you to verify account information. Never give personal information to someone who contacts you,” Shaffett said. “No matter how authentic the messages appear, legitimate businesses will not ask for updates or confirmation of account numbers by contacting you through unsecure communications.”
Shaffett said to be suspicious whenever someone initiates the contact. Hang up immediately on such telephone calls and do not answer e-mails, open attachments or follow Internet links. Much like fishing, those nibbles will encourage scammers to continue phishing in the same place for information.
“If you are concerned about your account with a bank or company, call them on a legitimate phone line, not a phone number you get off the e-mail,” Shaffett said. “Don't investigate links that might be in the e-mail or open any attachments.”
Shaffett encouraged consumers to report suspicious activity to the Federal Trade Commission.
Forward any suspicious e-mail to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Victims of scams can file complaints at http://www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft to learn how to reduce the damage.