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Technology Basics

Scams Even You Could Fall For—And How to Avoid Them

Learn how to avoid the most common swindles—from high-tech password theft to low-tech door-to-door hustles. 

By Susan Stellin
Man in a laptop illoClayton Junior


Phishing for Passwords

The rip-off: Some fraudsters try to trick you into revealing personal information, like passwords, credit-card numbers, and account details, by pretending to be your bank or credit union or a government agency. This crime is so commonplace that it has its own name, phishing. How do these crooks do it? Often you’ll receive an e-mail or a text message that appears to be from your financial institution that says your password needs to be reset or you need to update your account information. Instead, you might be directed to a website to fill out a form that is set up for the purpose of stealing your personal data. Or you might receive a recorded phone call asking you to call back a number and enter your account details via an automated system. (This version of the scam is called smishing.) Think you would never be taken in? Consumer Reports estimates that 1 million households gave phishers confidential material within the last two years, leading to estimated losses of $650 million.

The tip-off: It’s not easy to sniff out these scammers, since they are so tech-savvy. “Some phony phishing websites use logos and text copied from genuine bank sites,” says Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life (Sterling, $16, Swindlers can even program their phones so that an actual bank’s name shows up on your caller I.D.

How to protect yourself: If you get a call that’s supposedly from your lender—which might happen, especially if you’re traveling and they are concerned about any unusual purchases—hang up and call the number listed on your bank statement or credit or debit card. If you have doubts about a text or an e-mail that you receive, delete it. Then phone your bank to resolve any questions and to notify it about a possible scam.

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