Going Where the Money Is

Crooks who create phishing scams go where the money is. That includes federal retirees and Social Security recipients.

Most people want more money–even if they don’t need it.

And, if you are going to try and steal money, why not go after a target that is the most vulnerable?

In the 1930’s, bank robber Willie Sutton is credited with saying that he robbed banks "because that’s where the money is." That was obvious in his time. In today’s world, the money is easier to get to through the internet than through the banks with less likelihood of getting caught or shot.

Many federal retirees and Social Security recipients will get a 3.3% increase next year as a result of an increase in the cost of living index. Some crooks with an entrepreneurial instinct will see this as an opportunity.

No doubt, that 3.3% will mean a lot to some retirees. They want to make sure they get the money. They also know that the government has rules and regulations to fit most aspects of human endeavor–especially before it sends out money to people.

"Phishing" scams are popular because they can be very profitable for the thieves. "Phishing" is a term for deception created to steal your personal information. In phishing scams, the thief tries to get you to disclose valuable personal data – like credit card numbers, passwords, account data, or other information – by convincing you to provide it under false pretenses. These schemes can be carried out in person or over the phone, and are delivered online through spam e-mail or pop-up windows.

In some of the more elaborate (and successful) phishing scams, the crook sends an e-mail and tells people that the reader needs to go on to the internet to a specified site to enter information. The site looks just like a valid site. It probably contains the logo used by an agency or institution and the internet address (the URL) may even be fake and set up to quietly send the unsuspecting victim to a site designed by the crook to capture the desired information.

The Social Security Administration is warning all Americans that an enterprising thief is now engaging in a phishing scheme to capture personal information by using the agency (and its money) as a cover. The thieves are sending out an e-mail message with information about the 3.3 percent benefit increase for 2007 and contains the following “NOTE: We now need you to update your personal information. If this is not completed by November 11, 2006, we will be forced to suspend your account indefinitely.” The reader is then directed to a website designed to look like Social Security’s Internet website.

No doubt, once the unsuspecting victim enters a bank account number or credit card information, the account will be emptied of money or the credit card used to charge goods and services for which you will later receive a substantial bill.

If you get a message the purports to be from the Social Security Administration asking for personal information, think twice before sending the information. In fact, you may want to call the Social Security’s Office of Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 to report such an e-mail if you think it is a fake or go to http://www.ssa.gov/oig/hotline/index.htm to report the fraud (this site will not ask you to create a new account or enter your bank account or credit card information).

Thieves will always go where the money is. With the internet, you are where the money is. Guard your personal information with the same enthusiasm you use to guard your purse or wallet. Otherwide, "where the money is" will be somewhere other than your bank account.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47