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Phishing 101 - "Please Verify Your Account"

Updated on March 30, 2009

I got this email today. Subject: Your card has been deactivated

Dear Bank of America card holder,

During our regular update and verification of the clients data, we detected a serious error on your card.

For your security, your card has been deactivated.

In order to reactivate your card you need to verify your account using the link below.

https://www.bankofamerica.com/verify.jsp

We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Please understand that this is a security measure intended to help protect you and your card.

Sincerely, Bank of America

Wow. That's weird. I did recently make a larger-than-normal purchase. I wonder if they did something as a precaution. I've actually had a credit card suspend my account in the past due to unusual activity.  So, this made some sense.

But wait.... "serious error"?  What is that supposed to mean?  Just from some routine check? That doesn't really make sense.


Lesson #1

If it doesn't feel right, it might NOT be!

Trust your gut. It's your identity.

Lesson #2

Don't give out any information unless you called them!

This is really about who makes first contact. If I leave a message for someone at my local bank branch, and they call me back, then I can assume that it's really them. But if I get a call out of the blue about my account, and they start asking me to confirm my social security number or my account number, then something is "phishy" (so to speak).

The email I got was unsolicited. I'm just asking for trouble if I follow the link they sent and try logging in.

But they included a link to www.bankofamerica.com, which I know is right! Right?

Wrong!!!

Lesson #3

Links can be faked!

Put your mouse over the link. If you look at the bottom of your browser window, it shows you where the link really goes. I changed it for this article, so it would be more obvious.

The link in the actual email went to http://www.bankofamerica-li.com. That doesn't seem right.  (In this case, that site doesn't even exist, but some of the fake sites I've gotten did exist.)  If it was legitimate, then I would expect to be able to change that portion of the link to bankofamerica and still be able to log in properly. But when I do that, I get Page Not Available.

This email was definitely a scam. Someone is phishing for information.

Lesson #4

Your bank most likely has professionals working for them. This means that the quality of any message from them will be high, as it was written by professionals.

This message came from scum. Scum that's too lazy to do real work, and was obviously too lazy to learn proper English, much less put the time into determining the proper professional language for a message like this.

If you didn't notice already, take a look at this sentence from the email:

During our regular update and verification of the clients data, we detected a serious error on your card.

Um, "the clients data"? What clients? Or was that "the clients' data"? That wouldn't make sense, either. How about "our clients' data", or just "client data"?  Those would make sense, but that's not what they said.

If the language is anything less than perfect, then something is amiss. (Here's your answer for your kids when they say there's no reason to learn grammar!) :)

I'm guessing this message came from overseas somewhere.

Lesson #5

When in doubt, refer to lesson #2.

If something seems "not quite right", and you've acted on lesson #1 by trusting your instincts, then you should always be able to re-initiate.

If you're on the phone, tell the person you'll have to get back to them. If the person tries to keep you from getting off the phone, that's a sure sign!!! If they let you go, then they've lost their scam! If they're legit, they will be perfectly fine with you getting back to them. If they give you a phone #, listen politely as they tell you and say "uh huh", "yup", and "got it" as if you were writing it down. Then hang up and forget the number entirely. If you wrote it down (just to be convincing on the phone, of course), throw it away.

You always have a way to get in touch with your bank, credit card, provider, etc. Find a phone number on their website; go find the latest statement from them and get the number off of that; look them up on yellowpages.com, whitepages.com, or switchboard.com.  If all else fails, and you have a local branch, go there.

Once you've gotten in touch with them through the proper channels, you can know that you are speaking with the right people, and you can resolve whatever issue there may (or may not) be.

Conclusion

In case you're not familiar with the term, the email I got was an example of "phishing", the computer-scum equivalent of fishing.  They throw out some bait and see who bites.

It's quite unnerving sometimes. As I mentioned before, I had recently made a large purchase on my credit card with Bank of America. I would not have been surprised if they suspended my card. This just goes to show that phishers can sometimes get lucky. This is twice now that I've gotten phishing emails that coincidentally coincided (type that 10 times fast) with my real recent activity!

I've gotten a few phishing emails in the past that were very convincing! I felt like I may have had a slight advantage over the average person in those situations because I have a technical background and can recognise certain tricks. So, I worry about people like my in-laws, who are not very good with computers and may not see the warning signs. Even people who are quite savvy might not spot the tricks right away.

I truly hope that this whole thing is completely obvious to the majority of the people that see it and that I just totally wasted 1+ hours putting it together. But regular people fall victim to this stuff all the time! It's understandable, too. Especially when an email is especially well done, or when someone on the phone is really convincing, good at fast-talk, and gets you to tell them things you shouldn't before you've had a chance to think it through.

Watch it out there...

Comments

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    • sid_candid profile image

      sid_candid 

      7 years ago

      Great advice. Thanks for writing such a wonderful hub.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Important advice. Thanks for sharing.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Yeah i kinda beefed up my security with the threat of the Conficker and all before April 1st. Thanks again. :D

    • droj profile imageAUTHOR

      droj 

      9 years ago from CNY

      My understanding is that the filters are just that, filters. If a site has been reported, then you'll get a warning from your browser. That definitely a good thing, but I wouldn't rely on that 100%. But what if it hasn't been reported yet? A lot of people have the added protection of something like Norton or McAffee added to the browser. But recognising the warning signs may be able to save you when those things can't; like when it's a phone call, for example. :)

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Okay thanks for the info. Sure glad you're one "curious" guy and I can't blame you, what will all the scammers that abound.

      And good thing browers come with Phishing Filters! :D

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