Clay Maynard: Email can be scammers' open door to seniors
Remember when we used to invite door-to-door salesmen into our homes to demonstrate products like vacuum cleaners? Although we are not as likely to open our doors to strangers nowadays, they are able to come into our homes, businesses and smartphones via the Internet.
Emails are normally welcomed guests, but not all come with good intentions. Some are really wolves in sheep's clothing designed to take advantage of our high-tech open doors. Internet fraud, including identity theft, is one of the fastest growing white-collar crimes in the United States.
This month's Consumer Reports is all about the booming fraud business. They reported that fraud and identity-theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission are up more than 800 percent since 2000.
Sutter Community Bank of Yuba City recently sponsored a senior citizens financial-security workshop on Internet fraud. Carl Adams, the Sutter County district attorney, was the main speaker, and he did a great job of pointing out some of the vulnerabilities that seniors (age 65 and over) have in dealing with our new high-tech world.
He explained that various frauds and identity thefts are used to scam over $40 billion from seniors every year in the US. There were 40.3 million seniors in April 2010, according to the US Census, and that means the average loss per senior would be about $1,000 per year.
Adams explained that identity theft is a term used to describe a group of crimes that happen when someone steals your personal identifying information and uses it without your permission.
He had some suggestions to lessen the possibility of being an email scam victim:
• Use the preview pane in your browser to view part of an email without opening it.
• Put your cursor on email addresses and links to verify the properties of their real addresses.
• If you are not sure about a suspicious email, delete it.
• Do not click on links in unsolicited emails.
• Never respond with personal information to any emails you receive, even if they appear legitimate.
• As a general rule, if an email offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
• Always back up your files.
• Report (forward) fraudulent emails to inform the affected businesses.
Here is a partial list for forwarding fraudulent emails:
• Bank of America: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Wells Fargo: email@example.com
• US Bank: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Chase: email@example.com
• Citibank: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Capital One: email@example.com
• American Express: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Visa: email@example.com
• MasterCard: stopITmastercard.com
• Discover Card: firstname.lastname@example.org
• eBay: email@example.com
• Paypal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adams also brought up additional tips, such as: You should not sign the backs of your credit cards, but instead write in: "Ask for my ID." And the Do-Not-Call list is now permanent, so you don't have to renew every five years.
Many scammers' web pages are so good that even employees of the legitimate affected companies cannot tell if they are real or fake. Major banks and credit card companies seem to be the favorites for ID thieves.
Would you say the screen grab that comes with this article of a Bank of America unsolicited email with an American Express (Costco) bill is real or fake? Sent last month, it asks the recipient to click on a link to verify the recipient's identity, "Contact us about this email … use the Contact Us page, so we can properly verify your identity."
According to a Bank of America employee, the email is fraudulent because Bank of America does not send out emails asking recipients to click on links to provide personal information.
The email was forwarded to American Express' spoof reporting, but they did not reply. A Costco manager said the email appears to be fraudulent, but he has no way to verify it. He recommended replacing the American Express card, just to be safe.
This Bank of America email is actually a legitimate email with valid links, contradicting even the Bank of America employee and the Costco manager, both of whom erroneously believed it was fraudulent. However, scammers could use cut-and-paste techniques to create an identical email with deceptive links that would connect recipients to scammers' sites. It would be very difficult for anyone to tell a fake email from a real one.
For secure online protection, Bank of America and Discover Card offer virtual credit card numbers for one-time use, so you do not have to use your real credit card numbers online. You would only use a physical credit card when a retailer requires it to complete a purchase. See Bank of America, www.bankofamerica.com/privacy/index.cfm?template=learn_about_shopsafe, or Discover Card, www.discover.com/credit-cards/member-benefits/security/create-online-account-number.html.
By the way, you have been chosen to share a Nigerian fortune — just send the transfer fees.
Clay Maynard of Yuba City is a technology consultant and chairman of the San Francisco Bay Area Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Vehicular Technology. Email him at ConsumerTechTalk@comcast.net.