Internet scammers pose as banks, eBay

Even those who work in law enforcement aren't immune to Internet scams.

Requests for account information from seemingly legitimate sources that are sent to thousands of people also regularly land in law enforcement officials' inboxes.

"We get them here too," said Lt. John Forgay of the Craig Police Department. "How stupid is that -- sending it to a cop."

But a recent Internet scam is luring in at least some people, Forgay said.

Under the auspices of banking institutions, eBay, Pay Pal, or even the National Credit Union Association, Internet scammers are asking people to update their account information by providing personal information.

Internet scammers will ask for Social Security numbers and banking account numbers.

Messages may state that there is unusual activity in an account, which may be fraud-related and request people to return information about their accounts.

"The messages look legitimate, but they are not," said Judy McKenna with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension in a press release.

The scams often have official-looking letterhead from banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of the West and may leave a phone number for people to call to verify the validity of the e-mail.

Jill Leary, president of Wells Fargo in Steamboat Springs, said bank representatives would never ask for personal or account information over the Internet or by telephone.

Leary said people who are receiving those kinds of requests should call the bank directly. The company's investigation division accepts information to try to halt those kinds of scams.

"Give us some alert," Leary said. "There are things we can do if we know e-mail addresses or the phone number."

Alhough there have been no locally reported cases of residents being scammed by this particular scheme, it must be working on some people because it is being perpetuated, Forgay said.

"They're playing the odds on sending out mass e-mails," he said. "If they send out 50,000 and get a hundred responses, it's working for them."

Bob Wolff, spokesman for Bank of the West, said the company offers an array of opportunities for customers to learn about Internet fraud. The company reiterates to its customers that it will never ask for account numbers or information over the Internet. The bank takes its education one step further by providing information on identity theft in monthly statements and offering customers seminars to learn more about it. Still, the fight against Internet scammers is a tough one to win, Wolff said.

"They're becoming more sophisticated with fraud and e-mailing," he said of scammers. "We're doing everything we can in terms of protecting customers' identities. On our Web site, we certainly have a wealth of information on these types of scams that we're telling people about.

Forgay said the scam might be continued because people become concerned if they learn there may be a problem with their finances. Also thousands of people use eBay, an Internet auction site and use a secure way of paying for items online, through its Pay Pal service.

More than half of all consumer fraud complaints are Internet-related.

Ignoring e-mails that ask for personal information is the best way to avoid being scammed, Forgay said.

"It shows you what's going on when we're getting them down here," he said.

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