Don’t get hooked by phishing scams

by Sheryl Reichert

Sheryl Reichert, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Sheryl Reichert, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The Internet has become the place for “information highway robbery.” Phishing scams are phony and fraudulent emails with virus-laden attachments that should never be opened. Cyber criminals are the ones who are phishing (pronounced as “fishing”), and the victims are unsuspecting computer users in danger of having their identity stolen and bank account emptied.

Phishing emails will appear legitimate and will masquerade to be from a trustworthy entity, such as a bank, retailer, Internet provider, online payment processor, the federal government or even the Better Business Bureau. The message from a financial institution may state a problem has been discovered with your credit or debit card or bank account and immediate action is required. Often the urgent message is “click on the link or your account will be closed.”

However, if you click and open the attachment, then it’s likely your computer will be infected with nasty malware. Or, you will be redirected to a website and asked to provide personal financial information, including user names, passwords, bank account numbers, pin numbers, and credit card information – eventually resulting in identity theft.

Something else may happen if you open the attachment and get the virus. A series of pop-up messages will claim your computer is infected with dozens of viruses and offer to clean-up your computer for a fee. But, if you provide your credit card or banking information, then the scammers will have access to your funds and will steal even more of your money.

A recent phishing scam making the rounds is targeting Facebook users. The scam starts with a suspicious email informing Facebook users their account will be cancelled unless they follow a link to cancel the cancellation. The clever part is that the link appears to be official because it goes to a address, but it’s really a third-party application running on the Facebook platform. The message will ask you to download the latest version of Adobe Flash, which will allow hackers to spy on your activities and take control of your computer.

The BBB recommends you should never provide personal information to anyone you do not know. If you have questions, contact the purported email sender directly (the bank or credit card company) to confirm if there is really a problem. Red flags of fake emails include misspellings, grammar errors or a generic greeting, such as “Dear Member” instead of your name.

Do not respond by clicking links or attachments but delete the email. Install reliable anti-virus software to protect your computer and empty your “trash can” or “recycling bin.” Also, keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements for any unexpected or unexplained transactions.

The Better Business Bureau offers free educational information on how to be aware, informed and proactive so people can protect themselves against common frauds and scams. For additional consumer protection information, visit or contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) by phoning (858) 637-6199 during regular business hours. Or, call the BBB’s 24-hour Consumer Helpline at (858) 496-2131 or 1-800-600-7050 to obtain free information on local companies along with a list of BBB accredited businesses in a particular type of industry.