Determining Legitimate E-mails from Phishing Scams

Question

With all of the phishing e-mail messages going around, how can I tell a legitimate website from a hoax?

- Don

Answer

This question was answered on June 2, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

One of the promises of the Internet was to empower any user to have one-to-one and one-to-many communications with anyone else that was connected.

As with any great productivity tool that touches this many lives, what was meant to enhance can be used to degrade and e-mail is no exception.

This unbelievably powerful tool that allows us to exchange and gather invaluable information also allows malicious muttonheads to prey on millions of innocent netizens.

As most avid net surfers know by now, phishing scams incorporate e-mail messages that claim to be from a financial institution or e-commerce website urging the user to update their account In virtually every case, the plea is to go to a supposedly secure website to update private account information.

If the unsuspecting user clicks on the link in the message they are taken to a page that looks exactly like the legitimate site, because the scam artists recreated an exact duplicate of the site.

Some actually have the gall to ask for PIN numbers and the 3-digit verification number on the back of your credit card as a way to “validate” that you are who you say you are…

In most cases the link has a series of numbers known as an “IP address” at the beginning of the web address (example: http://213.143.000.00/securesite/login), which is your first clue that something is amiss.

IP addresses are something that are translated in the background by your web browser for all legitimate websites and are used by the scammers because they cannot use the actual companies www address

They are counting on users seeing a familiar interface and completing the forms without looking very closely or thinking about what they are doing If you float your mouse over the top of the rest of the links on the page, most often they will take you to the legitimate site, but the page asking you for your personal information uses an address that starts with numbers.

The problem has become bad enough that some companies have released programs that will step in on your behalf when you go to a web site that they consider to be risky.

One such company is Cloudmark (www.cloudmark.com), famous for their community based spam filtering This same community based approach is used in their new Anti-Fraud program that installs as a toolbar in Internet Explorer and warns you when you are about to go to a site that is considered risking by the community.

(They also offer free trials for SafetyBar, which are similar tools that install into popular Microsoft e-mail programs to warn you about suspicious messages.)

If you don’t feel confident in spotting suspicious websites, you can rely on this larger community with more experience to assist you automatically You can also contribute by reporting risky sites to the community when you run across them.

As with all filtering systems, it isn’t perfect, but it is free and can be very helpful to new users that aren’t quite sure what to believe.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on June 2, 2005