Internet fraud is on the rise; takes many forms

My latest credit card account payment had been rejected, said Earthlink in an email I just received. They informed me that I could update my billing information or make a one-time credit card payment at a web site they designated.

My Internet service provider is Earthlink and I do make automatic credit card payments of my account. What should I do?

I didn't take a very good look at the entire email but I suspected this was a fraudulent attempt to get my credit card information. It listed an 800 telephone number for Earthlink that I called and did get Earthlink customer service. They informed me that my account was up to date and had a zero balance. In addition they told me I could simply have checked "My Account" on the Earthlink web site and found the status of my account. I forwarded a copy of the fraudulent email to, received a confirmation and took no further action.

The Earthlink email was an attempt at a type of Internet fraud called "phishing." According to the U.S. Department of Justice (, "phishing" uses email or web sites that look like they belong to legitimate businesses in order to deceive Internet users. In this case they wanted credit card information that they allegedly could use for illegal purposes.

According to, May of 2004 showed 1197 different phishing attempts; the most popular to Citibank (370) customers and overall, 95 percent to financial institutions.

Other popular "phishing" expeditions attacked customers of ebay, aol, Paypal and many, many otherbanks.

To protect ourselves from "phishing," the Department of Justice (DOJ) says we should use a three-step approach: Stop, Look and Call.

Stop means do not act immediately even though the email may say Urgent. Do not click on the suggested link. Do not reply to the email with any information. There is always time to check on the request.

Look closely at the contents of the email. (I didn't at first) See if the claim makes any sense. Legitimate institutions have all your information on file and never email you to update this information.
Lastly, Call. Never reply to an email (or telephone) request for personal information. Always make your own telephone call to the institution in question and speak with an account manager. And be sure you have an independent source for the telephone number so you know you are calling the legitimate institution. In the Earthlink email, I used their telephone number but gave them no information. I just had them verify the status of my account. If they would have asked for any personal information, I would have called back using an Earthlink number I had in my files.

Internet fraud is on the rise and takes many forms. The most popular is fraudulent auctions where merchandise is either never delivered or misrepresented. This is not from Ebay, but is from sites offering goods at prices that just don't make sense. Unfortunately, it is a "buyers beware" world on much of the Internet and you should be as careful as possible to protect yourself.

Another popular, but unbelievable fraud, is the Nigerian Money Offer. It is hard to see how people fall for this one, but apparently enough do that it is repeated often. There are millions of dollars to be split with you. All you must do is provide your bank account information and some money up front and the fortune is yours. Really!

If you do receive what appears to be a fraudulent email, take the steps outlined by the DOJ. Then call the institution that is apparently requesting the information and report the alleged fraud. If you would like to go further, report the fraud by going to or and fill out their forms. There really is no way to stop this fraudulent use of the Internet except personal vigilance.

If you would like to hear more about Internet fraud or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit. The Senior Center will be closed Friday, August 6 but 'Coffee and Computers' will meet again August 13.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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