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An increasingly prevalent scam currently being employed by unscrupulous individuals is phishing. Phishing involves an email message being sent out to as many Internet email addresses that the fraudster can obtain, claiming to come from a legitimate organisation such as a bank, online payment service, online retailer or similar. The email requests the recipient to update or to verify their personal and financial information, including date of birth, login information, account details, credit card numbers, PIN numbers, etc.
Some of the email messages include a threat that failure to update or validate will result in, for example, the account being frozen. The objective is to induce unsuspecting recipients, who happen to be customers of the legitimate organisation being imitated, to respond to the email and to provide the information being requested.
The email will contain a link that takes you to a spoof web site that looks identical, or at least very similar, to the organisation's genuine site. In some cases, when the link in the email is clicked, the genuine site is accessed, but is overlaid with a smaller window with the spoof site, making it more believable. Clicking on a link may also download malicious software, known as "spyware" onto your PC which will record your use of the Internet and forward this information, and possibly a log of your keystrokes, to the fraudster. The fraudsters will use this financial information to compromise bank accounts, credit cards, etc.
To avoid getting phished you should never respond to email messages that request personal or financial information and never click on a link in such an email. Reputable organisations do not send unsolicited email messages asking their customers to update or verify their personal and security details. If you are in doubt about the legitimacy of the email, or if you think that you have been a victim of a phishing scam, you should contact the organisation in question immediately. You should, however, be careful to use the normal method you use to contact the organisation in question, rather than use any suggestions included in, or by responding to, the email.
Once the fraudsters have collected financial information of individuals via phishing, they are then in a position to abuse this information and steal money out of the compromised accounts. In order to cover their tracks, however, they recruit unsuspecting individuals to act as go-betweens by placing a variety of tempting job adverts on the Internet promising the chance to earn money quickly without expending much effort. These recruits are known as mules.
The bank accounts of the mules will be used to accept transfers of money from the compromised accounts. The mules will be asked to withdraw the money from their accounts in the form of cash and forward it, minus their commission, to the fraudsters using an international money transfer agency. The fraudsters can therefore maintain their anonymity, but there is a trail to the phishing mules, which can be followed by the authorities.
Be very careful about job offers which involve the acceptance and release of funds to a bank account in return for commission. Mules recruited by phishing fraudsters are money laundering and are likely to face criminal prosecution.