Consumer protection officials are warning people to beware of fake emails claiming to be from Verizon Wireless that say you owe money and should click on a link to "View and pay your bill.
The email is very similar to a legitimate Verizon message, but it's a phishing scam that could lead to your identity being stolen and your bank account being emptied.
An indication the email is a fake is the large amount due, sometimes several thousand dollars.
Also, by hovering your cursor over the link, you can check whether the URL leads to Verizon's website or, in a scam email, to a third-party site.
If you see anything out of the ordinary, don't click on the link, said Sandy Chalmers, administrator of the consumer protection division of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Instead, forward the suspicious email to email@example.com.
If in doubt, contact Verizon, said company spokeswoman Andrea Meyer.
Don't touch the suspicious email, she said.
Clicking on the "View and pay your bill" link could install malware or spyware on your computer that monitor your keystrokes and steal login information to websites such as bank accounts.
The fake Verizon notice is a little unusual in that it's been sent to businesses and individuals.
State government employees also have received it and have been warned not to click on the link.
Scam emails often are rife with grammatical errors, but the fake Verizon notice is notable for its painstaking replication of a legitimate email from the company.
"These crooks are getting better and better at impersonating businesses," Chalmers said.
Often the scams come from Eastern Europe, and U.S. authorities have few ways of tracking them.
If one Internet provider shuts down a scam, often it starts up again with another website or email address.
The best scams copy each other, further complicating efforts to end the practice. Often, the scams pose as banks.
Should malware get installed on your computer, there are ways to remove it.
But even bankers get scammed. Last year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, three officials at an unnamed bank clicked on a PDF attachment that arrived in emails purportedly from the FDIC.
It infected their computers and sent the electronic key to the bank's money transfer system to hackers in Romania. The bank lost millions.
If your online account is hacked by a scam, it could result in the loss of money you won't get back.
"The consumer is in a very difficult position, to put it mildly," Chalmers said.
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