In recent weeks, scam artists pretending to represent reputable companies such as Bank of America and eBay have been e-mailing Internet users in an attempt to steal their account information. Although not a new scam, the e-mails are part of a growing trend of identity theft online.
In one of the latest examples, Wells Fargo warned its online customers late last month of an e-mail purporting to come from the company. The alert came after the company received notices from dozens of customers saying they'd received the bogus e-mail.
"It has come to our attention that some of our customers have received fraudulent e-mails claiming to come from Wells Fargo," the company said in a note to customers on its Web site. "Please don't give out confidential information online or over the phone unless you know the party you're dealing with."
Last month, Bank of America and eBay issued similar warnings to their customers. And earlier this month, several PayPal customers reported receiving a fraudulent e-mail that at first appeared to come from the online payment company.
Such scams are a growing concern. Identity fraud was the top fraud complaint reported by consumers last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, comprising 42 percent of the more than 200,000 consumer fraud complaints the FTC received.
In the most recent version of the scam, customers receive what they think is a message from their bank or Internet service provider, but the links within the e-mail take customers to unaffiliated sites.
Wells Fargo received 40 to 50 e-mails from customers alerting the company to the scam, said George Cheng, senior vice president of Internet Services Development at Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo put a warning notice up on its Web site and notified local police and the FBI, he said.
Wells Fargo is working with authorities to shut down the bogus Web sites, Cheng said.
"Everything that we have found is shut down," he said. "To our knowledge, there (are) none up there now."
Cheng didn't know if any customers submitted data to the sites before they were closed.