One of the more sinister and increasingly prevalent methods of identity theft is the practice of "spoofing" or "phishing," involving the sending of e-mails that mirror the appearance of a popular Web site or company in an attempt to commit identity theft. Phisher e-mails claim to be sent by a legitimate company and ask consumers to reply
with personal information, such as their credit card number, social security number and account password.
A June 2004 survey of 6,300 consumers conducted by the privacy nonprofit TRUSTe and the Ponemon Institute revealed that 76 percent of consumers consider identity theft their number one privacy concern.
In response to the sharp increase in e-mail phishing, TRUSTe released five rules to help consumers detect and avoid phishing scams:
- Be suspicious of urgent demands for information. Often spoofed e-mails will make some form of urgent request. For example, the e-mail will claim that your account will be terminated if you fail to confirm your sensitive information.
- Look for misspelled words or grammatical errors in the message and/or hyperlink. Blatant misspelled words and/or grammatical errors are common in spoof e-mail scams.
- Avoid e-mailing personal and financial information. Before submitting financial or account information to a Web site, look for a third-party privacy seal to ensure that the transaction is secure. Also avoid volunteering private information like passwords or a personal social security number.
- Be watchful of general greetings. Many spoof e-mails begin with a general greeting such as "Welcome eBay User" rather than directly addressing the registered user by name.
- Contact the company directly. If you have any doubts about an e-mail or Web site, open a new browser and visit the company directly to verify Web site. Don't be afraid to call customer service about an e-mail.
In addition, consumers should choose Web sites for online commerce carefully. "Consumers should make purchases only from companies that take identity threats seriously. We advise that consumers work with companies that have taken steps to correct any challenging situations and demonstrated their support by countering cybercriminals engaged in phishing activities,” said Fran Maier, president and executive director, TRUSTe.