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In a typical case, you'll receive an e-mail that appears to come from a reputable company that you recognize and do business with, such as your financial institution. In some cases, the e-mail may appear to come from a government agency, including one of the federal financial institution regulatory agencies.
It may use phrases, such as "Immediate attention required," or "Please contact us immediately about your account." The e-mail will then encourage you to click on a button to go to the institution's Web site.
In a phishing scam, you could be redirected to a phony Web site that may look exactly like the real thing. Sometimes, in fact, it may be the company's actual Web site. In those cases, a pop-up window will quickly appear for the purpose of harvesting your financial information.
In either case, you may be asked to update your account information or to provide information for verification purposes: your Social Security number, your account number, your password, or the information you use to verify your identity when speaking to a real financial institution, such as your mother's maiden name or your place of birth.
WARNING: If you provide the requested information, you may find yourself the victim of identity theft.
Never provide your personal information in response to an unsolicited request, whether it is over the phone or over the Internet. E-mails and Internet pages created by phishers may look exactly like the real thing. They may even have a fake padlock icon that ordinarily is used to denote a secure site. If you did not initiate the communication, you should not provide any information.
If you believe the contact may be legitimate, contact the financial institution yourself.
Never provide your password over the phone or in response to an unsolicited Internet request. A financial institution would never ask you to verify your account information online.
Review account statements regularly to ensure all charges are correct.
Report suspicious emails or calls to the Federal Trade Commission through the Internet at www.ftc.gov/idtheft, or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT