You already know about phishing scams. Phishing is where scammers send emails claiming to be from PayPal, eBay, Amazon, Google, banks and other well-known companies and attempt to get you to give up your personal information. For example, they may say that you need to update your credit card information and ask you to click through to the site, log in, and update your account.
The scam? The link in the email takes you to a page that looks like the real site, but is actually owned by the scammer. You enter your log in and password, credit card numbers and other identifying information, and they can now use that to charge things to your account or even steal your identity.
Now there is a new twist on phishing that tries to pass itself off as an online survey. In this new scam,
the email asks you to take a survey, promising that you will be paid a large fee (e.g., $90) for answering a few quick questions. After completing the online survey, you are asked for information that will allow them to transfer the payment to your bank account. You may be asked to supply your bank account and routing numbers, debit card number and PIN, and other personal information that will allow them to drain every last cent from your account.
Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself from these types of phishing scams:
Never enter your personal information after clicking a link in an email. This means log in ID, password, credit card number, Social Security Number, banking information, mother’s maiden name, etc. If you think the email may be legitimate and you need to update your information, open your browser and key in the URL, then log in to your account.
Never email your personal information to anyone. Email communications are not secure, and no legitimate business will ask you to send sensitive data via email.
Never give out your passwords. Many mystery shopping companies use PayPal to issue payments to secret shoppers. They will ask for the email address associated with your PayPal account. You should use that email address when you register with them. But they will not ask for your PayPal password, and you should not share it with anyone.
Use caution when releasing your banking information. There are some mystery shopping companies that require or prefer that you accept payment via direct deposit. They will ask for your bank account and routing numbers so they can deposit the funds. You should only give them this information if you are certain they are legitimate. Check them out by asking other shoppers about them on message boards and forums, see if they are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, etc.
Consider having a separate bank account for receiving direct deposits. Open a free checking account (available at many banks) and use it only for receiving direct deposits from secret shopping companies, transfers from PayPal, etc. Regularly transfer the money you receive from this account to your primary checking or savings account. Even if a scammer gets your banking information, they will not be able to steal much from you if you always keep the balance near $0.
Many scams rely on trust. The email looks like it comes from eBay, so people assume that it does. Look carefully. Are there spelling and grammatical errors? Scammers are not always great writers. Does the URL they want you to click not really go to the site? For example, http://ebay.myscamsite.com does not go to the eBay site. And the email that shows in the email may not be where the link takes you. For example, it may appear that the link is to http://www.paypal.com/ but the actual link is to http://paypal.othersite.com. When you put your mouse over the link, most email programs will tell you where the link really goes. Also, beware of links to URLs that are all numbers. That usually means they are trying to hide that they are sending you to a site other than what is claimed.
Scammers also rely on human greed. $90 for answering a couple of questions? I’m in! Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your intuition. Yes, you can get paid for completing surveys and market research studies, but a $90 payment would probably be for a fairly time-consuming questionnaire or study, or for a survey where it was difficult to find people who qualified for the study.
Another way to protect yourself is to sign up for a service to safeguard your identity. I am a member of LifeLock and it is reassuring to me to know that they are watching for misuse of my information. I figured that the peace of mind is worth the small annual fee.
By exercising caution and good judgment, you can protect yourself from most scams.