Consumers must be more vigilant of scamming ploys

October 20, 2009 — by Maggie Lin and Kevin Mu

Who knew that scammers could be such good phisermen? Recently, 30,000 Microsoft, Yahoo, GMail and Hotmail e-mail addresses and passwords were stolen and posted online in a highly publicized Internet phishing scheme. Even though the FBI has arrested dozens of suspect hackers according to the Washington Post, the real responsibility for these lost passwords lies with the e-mail users themselves.

Phishing is a tactic in which scammers, through e-mail or telephone, pretend to be reputable organizations like banks or online stock brokers in order to solicit information from unsuspecting customers. When people reveal their personal information, it becomes available for the hackers to use, sell or post online.

Scammers are constantly finding ways to make their e-mails more believable. By taking images from reputable websites and by cleverly disguising their own fraudulent ones, they can create messages that are amazingly realistic. Users, however, must stay vigilant about suspect e-mails because their carelessness only perpetuates scammers’ illicit activities: as long as there are such gullible people, con-artists will continue to send out millions of e-mails in hopes of reeling in a couple more suckers. These victims are the helpless prey who keep the Internet scamming business alive and vigorous.

On a more personal note, one of us received a call on our home phone by a Chinese-speaking woman who wanted to give a Chinese Moon Festival present to one of our siblings. Asked for her name, she didn’t respond and kept talking. Told that the sibling wasn’t home, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Eventually the only solution was to simply hang up on the scammer.

Unlike telemarketers, who can be shooed away with a quick “my parents aren’t home,” phishers have gotten personal. Their goal is to get personal information, and instead of trying the next caller, they continue to push your buttons in the hopes that you will finally give in. But here’s a cogent piece of advice: don’t. By being aware of scams you not only protect your own personal data, but also help fight against hackers, who can only survive if people fall for their traps.

All it takes is education and a little bit common sense to avert these scams. For example, any e-mails or phone calls asking for verification information or claiming to give out free prizes are fraudulent 99 percent of the time. People must always become skeptics when dealing with strangers, even ones that might seem trustworthy. Ignorance and naivete are no excuses to get scammed.

It is tough to stop the spam that’s quickly turning e-mail inboxes into verbal junkyards or the constant, belligerent phone calls that seem to always arrive at the most inconvenient times, but a person’s best defense is simply to be skeptical and stay aware: Watch out for phone calls or e-mails that look suspicious or deals that sound too good to be true, because frankly, they usually are.

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