Computer Tutor: John Lucas

John Lucas“During a regular verification of accounts, we were unable to verify your information. Please click here to update your information within 48 hours or we will be forced to suspend your account.”

Have you ever received such an email with a similar message? It’s an Internet scam called “phishing.” According to, phishing (pronounced fishing) is when cybercriminals send an email falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise, like Chase Bank, Visa, PayPal, Facebook and eBay, in an attempt to scam the recipient into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft to steal your money.

A phishing email typically directs you to visit a bogus website, where you are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, Social Security and bank account numbers, that a legitimate organization already has.

It is not always easy to spot a phishing email, but here are some common characteristics:

• Generic greetings — The email is not directed specifically to you, but to a generic user or group as a mass mailing.

• Popular company or website — To appear legitimate, cybercriminals often use popular companies or websites, such as Paypal, Facebook, Chase Bank or Microsoft and their official-looking logo as the source of their email.

• Threats or rewards — To get you to take immediate action, phishing emails often use threats such as your account has been stolen or rewards such as you have won the lottery.

• Poor spelling and bad grammar — Cybercriminals are not known for their grammar and spelling. Legitimate companies employ copy editors.

• Phony-looking links — Check the site address. Does the link appear to be legitimate or phony?

Ultimately, trust your instincts. If an email seems suspicious, don’t open it. If something about the email or the attachment makes you uncomfortable, there’s probably a good reason. Don’t let your curiosity put you at risk.

The Federal Trade Commission suggests these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:

• If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don’t click on the link in the message, either. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine.

• Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge.

• Don’t email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information.

• Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.

• Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from suspicious emails you receive, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain viruses or other software that can weaken your computer’s security.

If you suspect you have been a victim of a phishing scam, forward spam that is phishing for information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email. Most organizations have information on their websites about where to report problems.

If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at, then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft website at

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For more information about phishing, check out these government and public service websites,


Privacy Clearinghouse:

Anti-Phishing Work Group (APWG):

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John Lucas is the owner of Your Computer Tutor, which provides personalized home computer instruction and technical support for both Macs and PCs in the Portland metro area. A retired teacher with a master's in library science, Lucas welcomes questions about common computer issues. Reach him by email at johncomputertuto[email protected]