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Sunday, January 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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Avoid giving out personal information

By Marshall Loeb and Brendan January
CBS MarketWatch

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NEW YORK — With more and more consumers turning to the Internet to shop, bank and exchange messages, scam artists now lurk like pickpockets in crowded public areas.

Using e-mail, they coax people into surrendering personal information or money codes, which they then use to commit fraud or money laundering. The phenomenon is called "phishing." These thieves send out e-mail like baited hooks and hope for a bite.

What does this e-mail look like? It can appear legitimate, including a company logo.

Citigroup reported recently that phishers have sent out an e-mail to bank customers, urging them to go to a Web site and register their account for security reasons. The site, however, was false, and anyone who responded to the e-mail sent bank information directly into the wrong hands.

Citibank and its customers are not the only ones to be the victims of such fraud.

How do you protect yourself? Be deeply suspicious of any e-mail that asks you to divulge personal information, such as your Social Security or bank-account numbers, or common questions used to verify your identity such as your mother's maiden name. Companies will never ask for such information over the Internet.

If you believe you are a victim of a scammer masquerading as a legitimate company, contact the company immediately. Also check company Web sites. Many post lists of false e-mails that have been sent in their name.


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