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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Email Phishing: Keeping your personal information safe

So now that I work for a University Office of Information Technology, I have seen many examples of "phishing" attempts where someone emails a student and asks them to verify some type of information or to open an attachment of some sort.  The student then finds out a few hours later that he has lost access to his account because it is being used to send out fraudulent emails.

Here at the university, we never ask for a student's password or account information, and that is especially true over email.  However, hundreds of students are fooled every year by scammers dropping a line out and phishing for passwords.

Here are some tips to keep all your accounts safe.

What to look for:

  1. Misspellings-most companies have very good editors and will make sure they don't spell "loose" (as in lose your account) with too many o's. 
  2. Threats-companies want to keep your business, so if an email threatens to "close your account", then you can bet it's not an official email. 
  3. Email address-if a shady looking email is coming from your bank, and the return email address is, then it's an obvious scam.
  4. Amazing offers-it is as simple as this, if an offer sounds too good to be true, then it is a scam. 
  5. Attachments-these CAN contain viruses that can passively steal your information, avoid opening attachments from email addresses you don't recognize or that seem illegitimate.  Note that not all attachments are dangerous. 
  6. Links-links can lead you to a site that may look like a legitimate one, but it also might be a replica of what your bank site looks like.  Remember to verify that the website URL is the correct one.  If you don't feel an email is trustworthy, then don't follow links. 
Friendly reminders:
  1. Never give your password out online.
  2. If you think your account has been jeopardized, call the company and have them help.
  3. Use common sense; would you give a man on your doorstep your wallet simply because he was wearing a suit and said he was from your bank? (no) --here is a link to a terrible scam, many are far more convincing than this one.

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