The phony e-mail security alerts look like they're from your bank.
Now, a Bellevue woman is one of the newest victims. She just got taken by a "phishing" e-mail pretending to be from Washington Mutual Bank.
With a simple click of a mouse her life turned to panic, fear, and looking over her shoulder.
One Click Is All It Took
It started with a "Security Center Advisory" from Washington Mutual Bank.
Scam artists hit e-mail boxes by the thousands. They claim someone's illegally logged onto your online bank account and they need to verify all of your information.
Kerri of Bellevue got the e-mail Sunday while catching up on work at her job. Since she's a Washington Mutual customer and had never heard of "phishing," she had no idea it was a scam.
Kerri is so embarrassed -- and worried -- she doesn't want KOMO 4 News to show her face on camera or reveal her last name.
The e-mail looked so real that she believed it and verified her information by clicking on the link.
Kerri said she typed in "my name, date of birth, and my Social Security number and my bank account number."
Then, she questioned the e-mail and called her Washington Mutual branch. They told her she'd been taken.
Then, the panic set in. Kerri rushed to put alerts on her credit reports, and her WAMU mortgage account. She went online and learned how widespread the "phishing" problem is.
Call The Police
Kerri also called Bellevue Police and learned something chilling.
"We're seeing trends now where the information stolen isn't used for maybe six months to a year after the fact," Officer Michael Chiu told KOMO 4 News. They wait until your guard is down, and your credit alerts are expired.
Kerri says that makes her a little nervous. Now she's looking over her shoulder for what might happen to her good credit and her name.
The scam is called "phishing" because the e-mails are "fishing" for your password by using phony websites to mimic real businesses.
They pretend to be literally hundreds of companies including Washington Mutual, Bank of the West, South Trust, Pay Pal, and EBay.
"I had no idea," Kerri said.
Police tell us thousands of unsuspecting victims are taking the bait, just like Kerri did.
"The national trend is about 5 percent of all recipients of these "phishing" e-mails respond in some way," said Officer Chiu. "And 5 percent is a huge number."
Kerri came forward to help warn others to never, ever, respond to any unsolicited e-mail, snail mail or even a phone call that asks for your private information. Legitimate businesses never do that.
As of last month, there were nearly 3,000 different "phishing" sites in operation.
If you do get taken in, contact your bank and all the credit reporting agencies right away and have an alert put on your records. Find out how long the alerts stay in effect and remember to update them.
Also, be sure to notify police and fill out an incident report. It won't help catch the crooks, but Officer Michael Chiu of the Bellevue Police Department says it will at least help document when the fraud started and how long the crooks wait to use your personal information.
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