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The 15th annual National Consumer Protection Week is March 3-9. The week is dedicated to helping consumers protect their privacy, manage money and debt, avoid identity theft and avoid frauds and scams.

Internet "phishing" scams are one of the fastest-growing frauds today. Phishing expeditions can range from an elaborate website with fake graphics and logos to a simple text email offering a great mortgage rate. All are designed for one purpose: to collect email recipients' personal financial details, such as credit card numbers, bank account usernames and passwords.

By hijacking the trusted brands of banks, online retailers, credit card companies and even government agencies, fraudsters are able to trick some consumers into handing over their personal financial information.

To avoid becoming the victim of a phishing scam, consider the following tips:

  • Never give out your personal or financial information in response to an unsolicited phone call, fax or email, no matter how official it may seem.
  • Do not respond to email that may warn of dire consequences unless you validate your information immediately.  Contact the company to confirm the email's validity using a telephone number or Web address you know to be genuine.
  • Check your credit card and bank account statements regularly and look for unauthorized transactions, even small ones. Some thieves hope small transactions will go unnoticed.  Report discrepancies immediately.
  • Look for the padlock or key icon at the bottom of your Internet browser when submitting financial information online. Most secure Internet addresses, though not all, use "https." The "s" stands for "secure."

Report suspicious activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

If you have responded to an email, contact your bank immediately so they can protect your account and your identity.

For more information on phishing, visit the following: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation(www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/alerts/phishing.html)