Don't get hooked by a crook

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Phishing is a type of identity theft in which a crook uses fraudulent e-mails in an attempt to obtain your personal information.

One scam tries to scare you by posing as an official-looking alert to warn you that your "bank or credit card account has been compromised." It often links to a Web page that is an exact copy of a genuine website, which lulls consumers into signing on and providing passwords, account and Social Security numbers to correct the "problem."

Another genre purports to be sent by the lawyers, accountants or personal assistants of wealthy foreign nationals. They offer to split the family's fortune with you if you'll just help them get the money out of their country by providing your bank account number.

These scams aren't going away.

In its State of the Net 2010 survey, Consumer Reports says 1 million households lost money or had accounts misued by a phishing scheme, costing them $650 million -- so it remains a profitable crime.

Most phishers also live in Eastern Europe and Asia, making them nearly impossible to find and even more difficult to prosecute.

Your only defense is to never provide personal information to anyone who asks for it over the Internet.

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