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Gallagher Urges Consumers to Beware of Sharing Personal or Financial Information

9/17/2003

CONTACT: Tami Torres
850-413-2842

TALLAHASSEE— Recent headlines have been full of news about Internet worms, viruses and holes in computer security. Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is warning consumers to beware of phone calls or e-mails from people claiming to represent their bank, credit union or credit card company and asking for help in verifying or updating personal account information

"Scam artists are trying to trick consumers into giving out personal and financial information, either over the phone or through the Internet, under the guise of correcting a problem due to a computer virus or to increase security," Gallagher said. "Consumers should directly verify with their financial institution or credit card company that their account information needs to corrected or updated."

Recent examples include:

· Bank customers receiving e-mails informing them their accounts were placed on hold for security measure maintenance. Users were directed to a phony web site and asked to enter account information.


· Credit card customers were sent an e-mail from "customer support," with the bank's e-mail extension, directing them to a web site for a "technical update" to re-activate their account by entering personal information.


· Customers were told their financial institution had lost their online banking user name and password. The e-mail asked them to go to a Web site and re-enter the information.

Often, the scams involve elaborate impersonations – including complete copies of web sites, corporate logos, letterhead, and other official-looking documents. Computer-savvy con-artists use subtle tricks such as including hyperlinks that say the customer is going to one web site but actually connect users to an imposter.

Gallagher offered the following advice to avoid falling prey to these scams:

§ First, be calm. It is alarming to hear your account was frozen or your credit card information has been stolen. But by staying calm, you can better assess the situation rationally instead of panicking and following the instructions in the e-mail.

§ Legitimate companies never request such information via e-mail or over the phone. Certain clues can tip you off, such as the return e-mail is a Hotmail or Yahoo-type email address or the web address goes to a bogus web site.

§ If you receive such an e-mail or a phone call, go to the official web site for the financial institution by typing its URL directly in the address bar of your web browser, not by clicking any hyperlink in an email or an address given by the caller. Or, call the financial institution to verify what you have been told.

§ If you're still uncertain, e-mail or call the company's customer support department, and ask them to confirm the authenticity of the request.

If you have received similar e-mails or phone calls or you suspect a scam, call the Florida Department of Financial Services help line at 1-800-342-2762.