Scammers pose as courts and major retailers

By Matt Porter

January 17, 2014 Updated Jan 17, 2014 at 7:23 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Two types of email scams were reported by people in the Southern Tier. One of them has become more prevalent this past year, according to the Office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

The scams involve phony emails sent to internet users asking for personal information in what law enforcement calls "phishing."

Eileen Plunkett, of Binghamton, said she received an email from someone posing as a Wal-Mart customer service agent asking for personal details to supposedly return a holiday gift.

"The Wal-Mart email had the little Wal-Mart star on the stationary," Plunkett said. "So it looked like it came from Wal-Mart."

She had never received a phishing email before, but only a few days later, she received a similar email except from Costco.

"I then got one from Costco. I've never been in a Costco, so right there you know something is not right," she said.

In the weeks following, she received a half dozen more emails.

This time, Plunkett received emails claiming to be from courts in San Francisco, New York and Atlanta.

Each informing her of a court date requiring her attendance and attaching documents for her to download.

She didn't download them recognizing the documents could include viruses or other types of malicious software, but worries others would.

"Anybody could say, 'What is this? Oh, am I in trouble,'" Plunkett said. "You click the file, now you're in trouble."

Michael Danaher, assistant attorney general for Eric T. Schneiderman, said downloading an attachment from an unknown email could give scam artists all types of access to your computer.

"They could get in and take information out of people's address books that they have on the computer," Danaher said, "And they start sending out emails portraying they are the friend."

Danaher said he's seen software track a user's key strokes so when they enter a password or a PIN, the scammers will have them too.

He said tracking the perpetrators on the internet is nearly impossible and many of them act from outside the country.

"People can hide themselves behind different layers to make it impossible to uncover it," Danaher said.

It doesn't help that when they spread the word of one scam, another is invented taking its place.

"It's a never ending battle to try and stay on top of the scam artists," he said.

Danaher said if you believe you've received a phishing email posing as a retailer or bank, you should contact their security division and forward the email.

Under no circumstance, he said, should you open a link or download an attachment from someone you don't know or don't trust.

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