If you're reading my blog, chances are you have e-mail as well. "Stuff" appears in the e-mail box that we neither order nor want to read. As a real estate agent, the bad guys try to hook me with real estate words in the subject line of the e-mail. Sometimes financial terms are used. Sometimes the e-mail appears to come from one of my banks or a credit card company. Since all the financial institutions have my e-mail address, it's logical to assume the e-mails from my lenders are legitimate. Lately, however, my suspicious nature believes they are all bogus.
With all of the financial institutions going out of business or being bought by others because of the current market conditions, the consumer can feel like a top spinning out of control. Which company is still in business and which is not? What mortgage company holds my loan this week? It used to be Wachovia but they've been bought by someone. Now there's an e-mail saying the new bank wants to update my personal information by clicking on a link. It seems legit, but there have been several in my inbox that are asking for similar information and they're from unknown companies. Should this info be given out as requested?
The Federal Trade Commission warns against several such scenarios in a consumer alert bulletin. Phishers (pronounced "fishers") are having a heyday with the current stress in the financial market. Phishers send thousands (or maybe hundreds of thousands) of e-mails that appear legitimate. The e-mails use the change in bank ownership as an excuse to ask for the recipients' private information. There is usually a link in the e-mail connecting to the location that will take the information. The FTC warns not to use a provided phone number or link to give out your private information. Instead, they advise to use numbers from your financial statement. Other precautions include keeping track of your financial information by reviewing monthly statements carefully. The questionable e-mails can be forwarded to one, or both, of these addresses to alert authorities to them: "email@example.com" or "firstname.lastname@example.org". Other hints are listed on the FTC consumer alert.