Don't get hooked by hucksters on 'phishing' trip
The five-year-old movie, "Catch Me If You Can," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as uber-swindler Frank Abagnale Jr., and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who eventually caught him, was an eye-opener for the honest among us. The book, if a confessed fraudster can be believed, recounts even more amazing stories of deception.
Set in the pre-Internet 1960s, the story includes a number of scams that wouldn't be possible today, thanks to the instantaneous communications the Web makes possible.
We shudder to think, however, how much money someone as clever as Abagnale could have stolen had he had the Internet and other modern technologies at his disposal.
Unfortunately, while Abagnale long ago turned his talents toward stopping hucksters like himself, his deceitful successors have picked up where he left off.
And, unlike Abagnale, they don't hesitate to take on individual "small fish" like you and me.
That's why the Federal Trade Commission, with the help of the U.S. Postal Service, is sponsoring National Consumer Protection Week this week, Feb. 4-10.
"Read Up. Reach Out. Be an Informed Consumer" is the theme of this year's effort, designed to encourage consumers to find the information they need to make wise purchase decisions, avoid scams and let others know what you've learned.
You know what we're talking about. A fraudulent investment. Sending money to an illegal foreign lottery. An employment scheme. Identity theft.
Check your e-mail, and there it is, a pop-up message from what appears to be your bank, credit card company, online payment system or even a government agency, asking you to "update," "validate" or "confirm" your account information.
Don't do it. It's probably a "phishing" scam designed to steal your personal information and clean out your account or charge up your credit card to the limit.
Even if you are comfortable making purchases online, you need to be cautious about giving out personal information. Never give out your address, telephone number, Social Security number or e-mail address unless you know who is collecting the information, why they are collecting it, and how they will use it.
Never give your password to anyone online.
Use a "secure" browser that uses industry-standard encryption, which scrambles your purchase information until it reaches the proper people. Look for a padlock or similar icon on your browser.
If you think you have been a victim of online fraud or privacy violations, file a complaint with the Consumer Response Center by calling, toll free, (877) FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). A complaint form also can be completed online at www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm.
Better yet, stop by the McCook Post Office for National Consumer Protection Week information to avoid being scammed in the first place.