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Compromised account alert? Think before you act

Scammers play on consumer panic to actually compromise data

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Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
An email pops up in your inbox or a text flashes on your phone -- one of your accounts has been compromised. You need to act fast to prevent the loss of data or money. But if you respond immediately to such a message, chances are you’ll fall right into a scammer’s trap. 

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that its Scam Tracker has recorded an increase in these types of schemes launched against consumers around the country.

In the most common versions of the scam, the message tells recipients that there has been suspicious activity in their bank account or in another account, such as Amazon, Netflix, or PayPal. The message offers a link that can prevent any further loss of data.

People who click on the link arrive at a website that looks like it is part of the company in question. It may display the logo and the corporate color scheme.

The website bears a message telling visitors they should enter their account number, login credentials, or even Social Security number. People who follow those instructions are likely to either lose money or have their identity stolen -- or maybe both.

Telephone version

There’s also a phone version in which a caller claims to be from a bank or credit card company asking about a large purchase the victim did not make.

“Some victims told BBB Scam Tracker that the caller pushed them to download phony ‘security software’ to their phone or computer,” the BBB said in its alert. “This is really malware, which gave scammers access to sensitive information, such as passwords, stored on their devices.”

Compromised accounts are a real threat, but consumers need to remain calm as they try to determine whether the threat is real. If you are told you must act immediately, that’s a big red flag.

What to do

Financial services companies will never send you a message asking for passwords or other sensitive information. If you are in doubt, go to the company’s website without clicking any message link and log into your account.

Banks and credit card companies have customer service departments that handle fraud inquiries. Calling the toll free number on the back of your credit or debit card will put you in touch with people who can resolve any problems.

“Scammers want you to panic,” the BBB warns. “They may use intimidation tactics to pressure you into giving up your personal information or making payments.”

Needless to say, legitimate enterprises don’t do that. If you stay calm, you have a much better chance of avoiding a scammer’s scheme to actually compromise one of your accounts.

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