Phishing For Your Information

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It's become as common as brushing your teeth or driving a car to work, and you've probably already done it a few times today.

Checking your e-mail is such a staple in our fast-paced lives. A recent AOL survey reveals the average e-mail user checks their mail about five times a day.

But there may be a dangerous trap lurking in your inbox.

If you're logging-on to check your e-mail, Consumer Reports says you have a 25-percent chance of becoming a cyber-victim.

And with the growing popularity of online banking, an Internet scam called phishing is luring-in your information and your money.

It shows up in your e-mail inbox.

"In today's technology age we have new computer crimes coming up everyday and one of those Internet crimes in phishing," explained Officer Barry Pruitt, with the Bowling Green Police Dept.

You left click to open the message from what you think is your bank.

"It's a mass e-mail that's sent out and it kind of tricks you into giving information to people who are misrepresenting themselves," Pruitt added.

And the e-mail informs you of a problem or adjustment with your bank account that needs urgent attention, or even promises money.

"The promise of money, from any source, is always a red flag to me. People don't just hand out money," assured Charles Emberton, information technology manager for South Central Bank.

Still, you click on a link within the e-mail, which takes you to what you think is your bank's homepage.

"We will never ask them to click on a link or provide information. If we need information from them it will always be with a phone call and we will always verify who the customer is and in fact that they are a customer and we can transact that way," Emberton added.

You bank online and you're technology savvy, so you enter in your account number and password to figure out and fix the problem with your account.

"Once a consumer gives up that information then there's not a whole lot the bank can do about it," Emberton continued.

You've just been scammed and become one of the many victims of phishing.

"Legit businesses should, especially financial institutions, will never e-mail a customer and ask them any personal or account information because we already have it. It was granted to us at the time the account was open," Emberton said.

Luckily there are some no nonsense ways to protect yourself.

"I want to be absolutely sure before I give any personal information. My bank account number, my credit card number--I want to know exactly who I'm talking to," Officer Pruitt added.

You can also look for logo's that aren't an exact match to the companies logo, spelling errors or links to your bank's homepage that aren't valid.

So when in doubt, type it out.

"Awareness, education and going with your gut feeling. If you are suspicious go with your gut feeling and know that something probably is wrong and just don't give our personal information because your banks will never ask for it," Emberton assured.

The golden rule to avoid becoming a victim to most Internet scams is to never click the links within the text of a suspicious e-mail.

To find out what you should do if you do fall victim to an Internet scam and how to report suspicious e-mails, click here.

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