A client recently forwarded me an official-sounding email he received that mentioned his court case and also referenced problems with his Social Security number.
The email, which appeared to come from another law firm, said the client was facing criminal charges for fraud, among other things. It also said his Social Security number had been “put on hold by the U.S. government” until legal matters were resolved. It also said that the client would owe close to $12,000 in legal fees if convicted of these so-called charges.
Our client was smart to be suspicious of this email.
It was a fake. A fraud. It’s what is known as a phishing scam — when Internet fraudsters impersonate a business or government agency to trick you into giving out your personal information. Phishing emails may also be used to transmit viruses to your computer.
OnGuard.gov, which investigates and fights cyber crime advises:
Never reply to email, text, or pop-up messages that ask for your personal or financial information. Don’t click on links within them either – even if the message seems to be from an organization you trust. It isn’t. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through insecure channels.
Don’t open attachments on emails from people you don’t trust. And even if an email appears to come from someone you know, be careful before opening an attachment. The message that appears to come from your friend or family member may actually be from a hacker or phishing scammer.
Be wary of calling phone numbers included in phishing emails. They may be fraudulent, as well.
If you receive a scam email, you may want to forward it to [email protected]. If the email message mentions a specific bank, company or organization, forward it to them, as well. You also may report phishing emails to [email protected].
If you think you may have been tricked by a phishing email:
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
- Visit the FTC’s Identity Theft website. Victims of phishing could become victims of identity theft; there are steps you can take to minimize your risk.
- The FBI also has some resources to protect you from cyber crime.