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Phishing Scams Add to Market Woes

Wall Street's upheaval has put consumers at greater risk for phishing scams, a type of fraud in which individuals try to acquire personal information through deception. The share of spam emails that involved phishing scams has hit a high globally, according to U.K.-based Internet security firm Marshal. Bank of America, Citibank and Wachovia, in particular, have been popular Phishing targets.

The uncertainty provides an opening for scam artists called phishers, who send out seemingly legitimate emails asking for personal information such as passwords, usernames and Social Security numbers. That info is often used to open bogus credit card accounts, for example, or to tap into your bank accounts. Phishing can take the form of an email, phone call or letter. The scams range from the complex to the relatively transparent. Those that succeed work because they appear to come from a bona fide financial institution.

So how can you tell if a notice from your bank or mortgage lender is legitimate? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help weed out the scams:

Does it ask for your information?

Be suspicious of any email asking for personal information. After all, the majority of phishing efforts won't work if you don't participate. If the request looks sufficiently official -- you are addressed by name and the logo looks legitimate, for example -- double check with your banking or lending institution. Just be sure to contact them at the phone number written on your monthly statement, and not the one provided on the correspondence in question.
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