Cyber-criminals and phishing scammers will look for any opportunity to steal your money or personal information. With the 2010 U.S. Census process starting, cyber-criminals will take advantage of this 'census-taking' event to send out email scams impersonating the Census to draw potential, naive and overly trusting victims.
You probably have been providing your social security number to a number of businesses and you're under the impression that your information is safe and confidential. That is, until you reply to a fake email (phishing scam) that poses as a legitimate well-known company or business that you have a business relationship or existing account with. The fake emails usually strike fear and urgency by having subject headlines such as "Important: Email Account Verification Update!" and in the email message asks you to update, reveal or confirm financial or personal information. The phishing scammers will use the personal information you sent to perform illegal transactions.
The Census Bureau is a prime example of an organization that is being cited via emails and phishing sites in order to acquire personal information from computer users over the Internet. Computer users have reported receiving emails about the Census Bureau conducting the 2010 Census and asking for their participation. These messages are part of a scam to obtain personal information such as a person's PIN codes, social security numbers and passwords. The Census Bureau does not request detailed personal information nor will they send an email requesting PIN's, banking credentials or social security numbers.
On many occasions, phishing scammers will use an email that cites a "trusted source" such as a news group or government organization such as the IRS, or in this case, the Census Bureau. If you receive such an email, then you must ask yourself the question, what type of information are they requiring from me? Are they asking for your social security number or do they need you to confirm a password? This type of information should never be shared through email and a reputable company will reemphasize this policy if they are legitimate. Even CNN.com has reiterated in their recent article asking "Will your privacy be compromised online?" that "…most businesses really won't need your Social Security number, the key number for identity theft, so think twice before you provide it online."
What action should you take if you run into a bogus Census Bureau site or email?
If you suspect that you have received a bogus Census email or visited a phishing site that falsely represents the U.S. Census Bureau, then you must take the necessary precautions as listed below.
- Avoid clicking on any links within the phishing web site.
- Close your browser and scan your system for parasites if you suspect that you were automatically redirected to the phishing site.
- Avoid clicking on any links included in the bogus email.
- Do not download any included attachments in the bogus email.
- Forward the email or website URL link to the Census Bureau fraud reporting email address at email@example.com. The Census Bureau will then investigate your forwarded message and notify you of their findings. You will not receive any conformation or other messages beforehand. This type of information will help track down the perpetrators and shut down the malicious phishing sites so that other computer users do not become the next victim of identity theft.