It has become easier and easier to become a victim of credit card fraud. In the past, protecting your credit card numbers and bank accounts was relatively easy, but today’s cybercriminals employ sophisticated scams – the sneaky practice known as “phishing” – designed to steal your account information to gain access to your finances get identity and create theft nightmares for you and your business. I offer this article as an overview of one of the most common scam techniques and how not to fall victim to them: fake emails.
One of the earliest forms of phishing, and still one of the most prevalent, is the use of official-looking emails to trick you into clicking a link that will lead you to a trap. The sender is pretending to be from PayPal, your bank or another major bank, or maybe an e-commerce site like Amazon.com. The email will even include their logo. The message is usually addressed to “Dear Customer”. (The fact that it’s not addressed to your real name is a red flag.) The message indicates that there is an issue with your account that needs to be resolved, or that there is an important security alert. You will be asked to click on a link that will take you to a fake website that is convincingly similar to the official website, where you will be asked to provide personal information such as your credit card number, expiration date and security code (CCV). Worse still, some emails may contain a form within the actual email. NEVER fill out a form in an email.
So how do you protect yourself from credit card phishing? The first line of defense is good security software. Every computer in your business and home needs to be protected with a top-notch—and updated—antivirus and spyware remover. Your email client should have a spam filter. These are the basic software protections, but there is only one backup. Equally important is the continued use of common sense. Be suspicious and when in doubt, do not click on links in emails. Do not communicate in an unverified manner with PayPal, your bank, or your credit card issuer. If you need to contact these agencies, call the number on the back of the credit card or type their URL directly into your browser.
Here are a few additional tips to avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud:
- Never respond to unsolicited e-mails (spam).
- Never click on links contained in unsolicited email.
- Only open email attachments from known senders. If possible, scan the attachments for viruses.
- Compare the link in the email with the link you are actually directed to and see if they match and take you to a legitimate website.
One final piece of advice, if you think you’ve been the victim of a phishing scam, contact the credit card issuer immediately, and then contact a computer maintenance professional to have your hardware checked for malicious software that you may have accidentally downloaded.