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Attorney General Van Hollen Reminds Consumers - Beware of "Phishing" Scams


E-Mails Link to Phony Look-alike Websites of Legitimate Banks and Credit Companies - Consumers Tricked Into Providing Private Information Used in Identity Theft Crime 


MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today reminded Wisconsin consumers to beware of e-mail messages from familiar companies that are actually the bait in a fraudulent scheme known as "phishing."


"Phishing is one of the ways that cyber criminals perpetrate identity theft," Van Hollen said.  "Within minutes after an unsuspecting consumer enters personal information and account numbers, the criminals use that information to attempt to make credit card purchases and to withdraw or debit funds from the victim's accounts."


Phishing is a scheme in which Internet scammers send consumers e-mails disguised as memos from well-known retailers, banks, credit card companies and government agencies.  These unsolicited messages often convey a sense of urgency or warn of account termination.  They encourage the consumer to click on their web address which links directly to the website of the business or agency.  However, consumers are then redirected to a fake website that has probably been cut and pasted from the legitimate website. 


Subtle changes are made to these sham websites to lure consumers into entering sensitive information on the grounds that they are protecting their account, or can win a free gift.


Consumers are directed to enter such data as their Social Security number, credit card information, bank account numbers, passwords and other personal information.


Van Hollen said the "phishers" also sell this personal account information to other criminals.  These fraudulent transactions are done very quickly so that victims do not have time to check on their account balances or consult with their banks or on-line merchants.


  • If you receive an urgent e-mail or pop-up message directing you to visit a website where personal information is requested, that should be a big red flag it is a scam.
  • Opening phishing e-mails and clicking on to their counterfeit web-links also poses the danger of infecting your computer with a virus.  Some viruses contain spyware programs that can track your personal computer use and monitor web surfing.  Hidden spyware programs can also covertly change computer settings, promote unwanted pop-up ads, cause your computer to malfunction, lose data and even crash. 
  • Many companies and agencies that have been "spoofed" are aware of these scams and have posted warnings and alerts on their main webpages.
  • Legitimate businesses, banks and government agencies will not require consumers to send personal, account and financial information via e-mail.

Van Hollen said that upon receiving unsolicited, suspect e-mails with attachments, consumers should simply delete them -- and should never provide any personal or account information.


If you have submitted sensitive information in response to such an e-mail message you should immediately contact your bank or credit agency to check the status of your accounts, and even consider further actions suggested by these agencies to secure your accounts and information.

Reports of these scams can be made to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Consumer Hotline at 800-422-7128.  The Wisconsin Department of Justice enforces consumer law and will continue to prosecute violators as well as warn consumers of these hazards before consumers can fall victim to them.