On Tuesday, several University of Memphis students received an e-mail supposedly from First Tennessee Bank, claiming that an internal error had occurred and requiring all online banking customers to input their personal information, “in order to secure all online banking processes.”
“This has all the signs of your standard identity theft scam,” said Robert Forsythe, vice president of the Tiger Banking Center on The University campus.
E-mail identity theft scams, or “phishing,” is a common new way for computer scam artists to obtain people’s personal information, which they can use to access credit cards, open bank accounts and even get government documents published in a person’s name without the victim ever knowing.
“It’s a really easy way to ruin someone’s credit rating, or to drain their savings once they have that kind of information, with modern technology, they can do just about anything,” Forsythe said.
To prevent personal identity theft or online phishing scams, Forsythe says the best defense is simply “to use common sense.”
“I can’t think of any reason why a bank would need to verify personal information that they should already have, especially through e-mail,” Forsythe said. “The only time we would need to ask you something like that is when you’re opening an account, but once we have it on record, it’s sealed and confidential.”
The e-mail, which several students received over the university server, has been a cause for some concern among the student body.
“It seems like it would be pretty easy for them to get a program that could guard against this kind of thing,” said Joaquin Tucker, a junior sales major.
Marcello Smith, a senior business management major, also believes the university may be falling short of protecting its students.
“Just a few months ago, we all had to change our passwords, and now things like this are still happening,” he said.
If a person finds himself a victim of such a scam, Forsythe advises him to get in touch with his bank as soon as possible.
“The sooner you get in touch with your financial institution, the sooner they can start damage control,” Forsythe said.
“But of course, the best thing is to just block the e-mail, to not pay any attention to it.”
According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an online network that fights Internet fraud, the number of reported e-mail scams has more than doubled in the past year, although due to a higher rate of reporting by victims, it has declined in recent months.
“It’s important to remember the power modern technology has,” Forsythe says. “Not only can it happen to anyone, at some point or another, almost everyone becomes at risk.”