Scam Alert: Personal spam can be ID theft

12/21/2008 5:39 AM

12/21/2008 5:39 AM

THE SCAM: Spear phishing

HOW IT WORKS: Yes, guys, those spam e-mails for Viagra or baldness cream just might be directed to you personally. So, too, are many of the other crafty come-ons clogging inboxes, trying to lure us to fake Web sites so criminals can steal our personal information.

A Cisco Systems Inc. study found a large increase in the amount of personalized spam, which online identity thieves create using stolen lists of e-mail addresses or other poached data about their victims, such as where they went to school or which bank they use.

Personalized spam, known as "spear phishing" messages, often sail unmolested through e-mail filters. Some link to beautifully designed Web sites that are bogus or immediately install malicious programs.

The latest attacks include text-message spam, e-mails trying to trick business owners into coughing up credentials for their Google advertising accounts, or personalized "whaling" e-mails to executives claiming that their businesses are under investigation by the FBI or that there's a problem with their personal bank account.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Your money, and your identity.

HOW TO BEAT IT: Technical solutions can reduce the impact, but training employees to treat all e-mail with skepticism will be a significant advantage.

For a look at past scams, go to

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