Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Brain Has Gone Phishing

Let’s go phishing, shall we? A phishing scam is where criminals, via email, try to trick you into revealing personal information in order to steal your stuff. I was once confident that I would never be boneheaded enough to fall for a phishing scam. I am an “computer expert” and far too smart to fall for such trickery. At least that’s what I thought until I nearly became a victim of a PayPal scam. As part of my self-imposed punishment for being a sucker, I shall confess my stupidity in this very column in hopes of teaching both my readers a lesson in humility.

I buy and sell things on eBay from time to time. We eBay sellers occasionally receive eBay-generated email from buyers asking a question about an item we are selling. The sloppily-written email message I received today was, “Look, There are now 2 months since I paid for the item and I still didn`t receive it. unless you solve the problem the first thing I shall report you to eBay and second I shall go to the police . I am loosing my patience.”

I didn’t recall NOT sending anyone anything so my first thought was, “Who is this mammering, beef-witted, measle that is trying to ruin my morning?” I dutifully clicked on the familiar “Respond Now” link in the email intending to ask him what product he was referring to. Clicking “Respond Now” normally takes you directly to eBay’s website where you can log in and respond to the inquiry. When I clicked it, I immediately received a warning from my browser that the website I was accessing was a suspected phishing scam.

Thankfully, I had updated my preferred browser, Firefox, to the latest version. The latest versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome have anti-phishing filters built into them that flash a warning if you try to access a phishing website. If it weren’t for this anti-phishing technology, I would have handed my eBay username and password over to these thieves and my eBay account would be in shambles by now.

My research indicates that these motley-minded villains collect eBay usernames and passwords through these phishing scams then bid on various items. Once they “win” an item, they try to trick the seller into sending the items to (usually) a Nigerian or Eastern European address. If they are successful, the fraudsters sell those items on the black market.

So, if you think you would never be suckered into such as scam, I ask you to join me in enjoying a piece of humble pie. We are all susceptible. I suspect that those of us who think we are too savvy to be suckered are probably among the most susceptible. So we should all do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen. Start by updating your browsers to the latest versions.