Online Fraud Alert

As many as seven million people have their identities stolen every year. And thieves are constantly coming up with new ways to rip you off. One of the newest scams is happening online — it's referred to as "phishing" — that's with a "P-H". Consumer Reports says you have to be on guard so you don't get taken.

Rick Emmel has sold lots of things on eBay. So when he got an e-mail that looked like it was from eBay, he wasn't suspicious.

"But then they also wanted my name, home address, home phone number, social security number, mother's maiden name, driver's license number, and all my credit card information."

"But then I realized that this was not something I should answer."

The e-mail he got is one of the latest online scams. It's called "phishing."

Consumer Reports' computer editor Jeff Fox says phishing attacks are rising dramatically.

Here's how the scam works — you receive a fraudulent e-mail, like this one, that looks like it's from a trusted financial institution or company you've dealt with before. Often there's a link that takes you to a fake Web site.

"Typically a phishing e-mail or Web site will ask you for a password, or account number or a credit card number."

It can be very hard to identify a fraudulent e-mail or Web site. Many have logos, like this one posing as eBay, that look just like the real thing.

"Once they get your information, they can take money out of your bank account, or use your credit card, run up bills on your credit card."

To protect yourself online, Consumer Reports says: ▪ Never give out important personal information, unless you initiate the transaction.▪ If an e-mail asks for a password, give an incorrect one. A phishing site will accept it, a legitimate one won't.▪ And never click on links in e-mails — that's how you end up at a phony site.

To prevent that, Consumer Reports says you have to type Web addresses directly into your browser.

Rick cautions Internet users to be on guard. "Case"It's very easy to be taken in by this."

While there have been some arrests made in connection with phishing scams, government officials say it's a difficult crime to prosecute. If you get a fraudulent e-mail, you should forward it to the Federal Trade Commission so it's on record. The F-T-C address is: And, remember, your best defense is never giving out any personal information — unless you've initiated a contact and not the other way around.

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