Using the Internet in the privacy of your own home can feel like a safe and private activity. However, the virtual world is not without its real world dangers. Online predators can use leaked personal information to access people's bank accounts or bully unsuspecting victims. Consumers should exercise caution when they are online to ensure that their personal information remains private. FindLaw's Online Safety section provides the basics of online safety, including email privacy and how to stay safe while shopping online. You can also find an overview of spam emails, as well as articles about online auction fraud and the implications of posting photos of your kids online.
Email Scams: Phishing and Spoofing
Whether it's with personal or business contacts, email is a great way to communicate with people. Unlike mailing a letter, an email provides free and immediate communication. Unfortunately, anyone who has an email account makes him or herself vulnerable to common conning tactics known as "phishing" and "spoofing."
Email phishing occurs when a person impersonates a business or other entity in order to trick the recipient of the email into giving up personal information. Usually this personal information is then used to gain access to a person's online accounts or commit identity theft. Common phishing emails will include requests to verify personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, birth dates, or passwords. However, legitimate business, especially financial institutions, never ask for this type of personal information via email.
Spoofing is similar to phishing as it uses deception to trick users into giving up sensitive information. There are two types of spoofing: email header spoofing and IP address spoofing. In email header spoofing, a person uses a header that looks like it originated from someone other than the true source. When someone spoofs an IP address, he or she uses a forged IP address to trick the victim's computer into believing that the email came from a trusted source. Generally, spoofed emails will come from friends, family, or colleagues and will encourage you to follow a link or will be soliciting goods.
Protecting Yourself from Email Scams
The best way to protect yourself from email scams is to pay attention. If a website or email seems fishy, you should proceed with caution. If the email is from someone on your contact list, you can send an email to the person asking if the sent you the email. As for any emails that ask for personal or financial information, do not respond. Do not click on any links that may be provided in an email that asks for personal or financial information either. It's best to simply delete such emails. If you feel that the email might be from a legitimate business, you can search it on the Internet or call the business. You should be suspicious of unusually long and random-looking Web or email addresses. Finally, it's a good idea to install a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and update them regularly.
Hiring an Attorney
Online scams can result in identity theft, which can cause significant and long-lasting damage to a person's credit history or reputation. An attorney who specializes in identity theft will be familiar with the rights and remedies available to identity theft victims under state and federal laws. The process of fixing the problems caused by identity theft can be time-consuming and challenging. Hiring an attorney can allow you to live your life as you normally would, while the attorney recovers your identity and clears your name.
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