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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > April 2013 > ‘Spear Phishing’ Scams Hit Close to Home

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‘Spear Phishing’ Scams Hit Close to Home

In a typical phishing scam, a con artist pretends to be an employee of your bank or a government agency and asks you to confirm account information by submitting your bank account number, password, or Social Security number. The scammer hopes you will fall for the scam and reveal personal information.

Spear phishing is a more targeted form of this scam. Instead of sending a general message asking for verification of your account information, the scammer crafts a targeted message, using information he has learned about you.
For example, a scammer may hack into your e-mail account and find information about your financial planner and accounts. The scammer then sends an e-mail to your financial planner (using your e-mail address) and asks the financial planner to transfer $9,000 to another account. If the financial planner complies with the request, your money will be lost.
According to the FBI, criminals need some inside information to make spear phishing scams seem legitimate. They may obtain information by hacking into a computer network or by finding information online through social networking sites, blogs, or other websites. With this information, they can send realistic e-mails to potential victims.
To avoid spear phishing scams, follow these tips:
  • Create complex passwords. Use a variety of characters and make your passwords lengthy.
  • Do not use the same password for multiple accounts. For example, do not use the same password for your e-mail account and your online banking account. Create a unique password for each account.
  • Keep your security software up to date and use a phishing filter, if possible.
  • If your e-mail account is hacked, contact your e-mail provider. If the hacker may have gained access to your personal information, contact the appropriate organizations, such as your bank.
  • Do not share too much information online. Be mindful of the information stored in your e-mail account and how much sensitive information you transmit via e-mail or social networking.
  • Be careful where you click. When in doubt, do not click on links contained in e-mail messages.
  • Talk to your financial planner or bank about scams and what would happen if your accounts were hacked.
 Report scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or